Despite being one of the most exhaustively studied dinosaurs on earth, Psittacosaurus has never spent much time in the public eye. Read on to find out more about this amazing critter you’ve probably been neglecting.
1. Its Name Means “Parrot Lizard”
Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935), who gave short-faced Psittacosaurus this moniker in 1923, had coined the most famous dinosaur name of all, Tyrannosaurus rex, 18 years earlier. Not a bad resume.
2. Bones from Over 400 Individual Specimens Have Been Unearthed
Psittacosaurus may no longer roam present-day Mongolia, China, and Russia as it once did, but thanks to the documented remains of several hundred individuals, this gazelle-sized dinosaur is in no danger of being forgotten anytime soon. For comparison’s sake, good old T. rex is known from fewer than 40 incomplete skeletons.
3. Psittacosaurus Got Leggier With Age
Psittacosaurus’ abundance makes the job of studying its growth patterns a whole lot easier. After comparing the arm and leg bones of 16 specimens, Dr. Qi Zhao of the Beijing-based Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology found that hatchlings would’ve been consummate crawlers thanks to their relatively long arms and short, stubby legs. However, he also noted that between the ages of four and six, Psittacosaurus' hind limbs underwent a massive growth spurt, eventually dwarfing the forelimbs. Therefore, adults likely preferred upright, bipedal poses.
4. Numerous Species are Known
At one point, fifteen were recognized, though the total’s since been reduced to nine. What happened? Some nullified species, like Psittacosaurus major, wound up getting merged with others—in this case, P. lujiatunensis. Due to the often distortive nature of fossilization, these originally looked like two different animals, but closer examination revealed that, in reality, they were identical.
5. …One of Which Might’ve Been a Dinosaurian Nutcracker
Psittacosaurus gobiensis chronically swallowed pebbles, as evidenced by the fact that several were found lodged inside a well-preserved specimen’s gut. This implies that the dinosaur either didn’t fully chew or had trouble digesting whatever foods it was scarfing down. In 2006, paleontologist Paul Sereno opined that P. gobiensis used its powerful, parrot-like beak to crack open tough nuts and seeds before the stones in its stomach mashed them up.
6. Psittacosaurus Had Quill-Like Bristles
A truly incredible Chinese specimen includes a series of long, tubular, and almost hair-like structures rooted above its tail. Their function is unknown, but sexual display stands out as a common interpretation.
7. It was a Distant Relative of Triceratops
The earliest-known ceratopsian (“horned dinosaur”) is Yinlong downsi of western China, which evolved about 159 million years ago. Its evolutionary cousins spread across Asia, Europe, and North America, giving rise to such dazzling dinos as Psittacosaurus, Triceratops, and the magnificent Styracosaurus.
8. Psittacosaurus Might’ve Been a Strong Swimmer
This idea’s been proposed on multiple occasions, with supporters pointing to Psittacosaurus’ broad feet and “deep” tail as a means of aquatic propulsion. Furthermore, some scientists even controversially believe that the animal spent much or most of its life paddling though lakes and river ways.
9. Youngsters Seemingly Banded Together for Protection
25 young Psittacosaurus were found huddled together in 2004, yet, interestingly, they appear too large to be hatchlings. One much larger individual is also present, but this specimen is likely a sub-adult rather than some single parent. What we may in fact be seeing here is a group of adolescents which, having left their nest(s), formed an impromptu coalition for mutual defense. After all, there’s safety in numbers.
10. One Luckless Little Psittacosaurus Became Mammal Chow
Mesozoic mammals did more than passively curry between the shadows of dinosaurs. In what journalists painted as a Cretaceous case of “man bites dog,” juvenile Psittacosaurus remains were found resting within the stomach of a meter-long mammal called Repenomammus.