Old Earth Ministries Online Dinosaur Curriculum

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Lesson 63 - Lambeosaurus

Lambeosaurus (meaning "Lambe's lizard") is a genus of hadrosaurid dinosaur that lived about 76 to 75 million years ago, in the Late Cretaceous Period of North America. This bipedal/quadrupedal, herbivorous dinosaur is known for its distinctive hollow cranial crest, which in the best-known species resembled a hatchet. Several possible species have been named, from Alberta (Canada), Montana (USA), and Baja California (Mexico), but only the two Canadian species are currently well known. At about 15 meters (50 ft) long, the possible Mexican species "L." laticaudus was one of the longest ornithischians. The other species were more modestly sized.



Quick Facts


Length:  31 feet

Date Range:   76 - 75 Ma, Campanian Age, Cretaceous Period



(Picture Source)

Lambeosaurus was belatedly described in 1923 by William Parks, over twenty years after the first material was studied by Lawrence Lambe. The genus has had a complicated taxonomic history, in part because small-bodied crested hadrosaurids now recognized as juveniles were once thought to belong to their own genera and species. Currently, the various skulls assigned to the type species L. lambei are interpreted as showing age differences and sexual dimorphism. Lambeosaurus was closely related to the better known Corythosaurus, which is found in slightly older rocks, as well as the less well-known genera Hypacrosaurus and Olorotitan. All had unusual crests, which are now generally assumed to have served social functions like noisemaking and recognition.


Lambeosaurus, best known through L. lambei, was quite similar to the more famous
 Front view of a mounted Lambeosaurus lambei skeleton, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (Picture Source
Corythosaurus in everything but the form of the head adornment. Compared to Corythosaurus, the crest of Lambeosaurus was shifted forward, and the hollow nasal passages within were at the front of the crest and stacked vertically. It also can be differentiated from Corythosaurus by its lack of forking nasal processes making up part of the sides of the crest, which is the only way to tell juveniles of the two genera apart: the crests took on their distinctive forms as the animals aged.

In build, Lambeosaurus was like other hadrosaurids, and could move on both two legs and all fours, as shown by footprints of related animals. It had a long tail stiffened by ossified tendons that prevented it from drooping. The hands had four fingers, lacking the innermost finger of the generalized five-fingered tetrapod hand, while the second, third, and fourth fingers were bunched together and bore hooves, suggesting the animal could use the hands for support. The fifth finger was free and could be used to manipulate objects. Each foot had only the three central toes.

The most distinctive feature, the crest, was different in the two well-known species. In L. lambei, it had a hatchet-like shape when the dinosaur was full-grown, and was somewhat shorter and more rounded in specimens interpreted as females. The "hatchet blade" projected in front of the eyes, and the "handle" was a solid bony rod that jutted out over the back of the skull. The "hatchet blade" had two sections: the uppermost portion was a thin bony "coxcomb" that grew out relatively late in life, when an individual neared adulthood; and the lower portion held hollow spaces that were continuations of the nasal passages. In L. magnicristatus, the "handle" was greatly reduced, and the "blade" expanded, forming a tall, exaggerated pompadour-like crest. This crest is damaged in the best overall specimen, and only the front half remains. In the lesser-known species "L." laticaudus and L. paucidens the crest is not currently known. However, "L." laticaudus can be recognized by its great size and the tall profile of its tail, which had elongated chevrons and vertebral spines like those of Hypacrosaurus.

The Canadian species of Lambeosaurus appear to have been similar in size to
Lambeosaurus scale
  (Picture Source
 Corythosaurus, and thus around 9.4 m long (31 ft), but "L." laticaudus is estimated at between 15 m (50 ft) and 16.5 m (54.1 ft) long, with a weight of up to 23 metric tons (25 tons). Impressions of the scales are known for several specimens; a specimen now assigned to L. lambei had a thin skin with uniform, polygonal scutes distributed in no particular order on the neck, torso, and tail. Similar scalation is known from the neck, forelimb, and foot of a specimen of L. magnicristatus, whereas the tail of "L." laticaudus had some small bony bits embedded among large hexagonal and smaller rounded scales.


Two species of Lambeosaurus are currently confirmed valid, with a third widely accepted and a fourth sometimes accepted. L. lambei Parks, 1923 is known from at least 17 individuals, with seven skulls and partial skeletons and around ten isolated skulls.  L. magnicristatus C.M. Sternberg, 1935 is only definitely known from two specimens, both with skulls. Unfortunately, the majority of the articulated skeleton of the type specimen has been lost. Many of the bones were extensively damaged by water while in storage and were discarded before description; other portions of this skeleton have also been lost. Its remains come from slightly younger rocks than L. lambei. The specific name is derived from the Latin magnus "large" and cristatus "crested", referring to its bony crest. Additionally, Jack Horner has identified fragmentary lambeosaurine jaws from the Bearpaw Formation of Montana as possibly belonging to L. magnicristatus; these represent the first lambeosaurine remains from marine rocks. The large "L." laticaudus Morris, 1981, known from disassociated remains from several individuals, is accepted as a potential species as well, although it could instead be a species of Hypacrosaurus. Its validity has been questioned by the describers of Velafrons, who find its remains to be nondiagnostic but distinct from their genus. The specific name here is derived from the Latin latus "broad" and cauda "tail".

L. paucidens (Marsh, 1889) is regarded as a dubious name and is listed as Hadrosaurus paucidens in the latest review, although at least one author, Donald F. Glut, accepts it as a species of Lambeosaurus. In this case, the specific epithet is derived from the Latin pauci- "few" and dens "tooth".


Lambeosaurus lambei and L. magnicristatus, from the Dinosaur Park Formation, were members of a diverse and well-documented fauna of prehistoric animals that included such well-known dinosaurs as the horned Centrosaurus, Styracosaurus, and Chasmosaurus, fellow duckbills Prosaurolophus, Gryposaurus, Corythosaurus, and Parasaurolophus, tyrannosaurid Gorgosaurus, and armored Edmontonia and Euoplocephalus. The Dinosaur Park Formation is interpreted as a low-relief setting of rivers and floodplains that became more swampy and influenced by marine conditions over time as the Western Interior Seaway transgressed westward. The climate was warmer than present-day Alberta, without frost, but with wetter and drier seasons. Conifers were apparently the dominant canopy plants, with an understory of ferns, tree ferns, and angiosperms. The anatomically similar L. lambei, L. magnicristatus, and Corythosaurus were separated by time within the formation, based on stratigraphy. Corythosaurus fossils are known from the lower two-thirds of the Formation, L. lambei fossils are present in the upper third, and L. magnicristatus remains are rare and present only at the very top, where the marine influence was greater.



As a hadrosaurid, Lambeosaurus was a large bipedal/quadrupedal herbivore, eating plants with a sophisticated skull that permitted a grinding motion analogous to mammalian chewing. Its teeth were continually replaced and were packed into dental batteries that each contained over 100 teeth, only a relative handful of which were in use at any time. It used its beak to crop plant material, which was held in the jaws by a cheek-like organ. Feeding would have been from the ground up to around 4 meters (13 ft) above. As noted by Bob Bakker, lambeosaurines have narrower beaks than hadrosaurines, implying that Lambeosaurus and its relatives could feed more selectively than their broad-beaked, crestless counterparts.

Cranial crest

Like other lambeosaurines such as Parasaurolophus and Corythosaurus, Lambeosaurus had a distinctive crest on the top of its head. Its nasal cavity ran back through this crest,
Lambeosaurus crest
A life restoration of tall-crested Lambeosaurus magnicristatus  (Picture Source
making it mostly hollow. Many suggestions have been made for the function or functions of the crest, including housing salt glands, improving the sense of smell, use as a snorkel or air trap, acting as a resonating chamber for making sounds, or being a method for different species or different sexes of the same species to recognize each other. Social functions such as noisemaking and recognition have become the most widely accepted of the various hypotheses.

The large size of hadrosaurid eye sockets and the presence of sclerotic rings in the eyes imply acute vision and diurnal habits, evidence that sight was important to these animals. The hadrosaurid sense of hearing also appears to be strong. There is at least one example, in the related Corythosaurus, of a slender stapes (reptilian ear bone) in place, which combined with a large space for an eardrum implies a sensitive middle ear, and the hadrosaurid lagena is elongate like a crocodilian's. This indicates that the auditory portion of the inner ear was well-developed. If used as a noisemaker, the crest could also have provided recognizable differences for different species or sexes, because the differing layouts of the nasal passages corresponding to the different crest shapes would have produced intrinsically different sounds.

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