Old Earth Ministries Online Dinosaur Curriculum

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Lesson 48 - Stegosaurus

Stegosaurus is a genus of stegosaurid armored dinosaur from the Late Jurassic period (Kimmeridgian to early Tithonian) in what is now western North America. In 2006, a specimen of Stegosaurus was announced from Portugal, showing that they were present in Europe as well. Due to its distinctive tail spikes and plates, Stegosaurus is one of the most recognizable dinosaurs, along with Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Apatosaurus. The name Stegosaurus means "roof lizard" (sometimes put as "covered lizard", but in the sense that a roof covers a building). At least three species have been identified in the upper Morrison Formation and are known from the remains of about 80 individuals. They lived some 155 to 150 million years ago, in an environment and time dominated by the giant sauropods Diplodocus, Camarasaurus, and Apatosaurus.

Stegosaurus: Built for Defense
Allosaurus vs Stegosaurus


Quick Facts


Length:  39 ft. max (30 feet average)

Height:  14 feet

Weight:   10,000 lbs

Date Range:   155 - 150 Ma, Kimmeridgian - Tithonian, Age, Jurassic Period



Reconstructed S. stenops skeleton, Senckenberg Museum (Picture by Eva Kröcher (Source)

A large, heavily built, herbivorous quadruped, Stegosaurus had a distinctive and unusual posture, with a heavily rounded back, short forelimbs, head held low to the ground and a stiffened tail held high in the air. Its array of plates and spikes has been the subject of much speculation. The spikes were most likely used for defense, while the plates have also been proposed as a defensive mechanism, as well as having display and thermoregulatory (heat control) functions. Stegosaurus was the largest of all the stegosaurians (bigger than genera such as Kentrosaurus and Huayangosaurus) and, although roughly bus-sized, it nonetheless shared many anatomical features (including the tail spines and plates) with the other stegosaurian genera.


Averaging around 9 meters (30 ft) long and 4 meters (14 ft) tall, the quadrupedal
Stegosaurus scale
Stegosaurus scale with human (Picture Source)
 Stegosaurus is one of the most easily identifiable dinosaurs, due to the distinctive double row of kite-shaped plates rising vertically along its rounded back and the two pairs of long spikes extending horizontally near the end of its tail. Although a large animal, it was dwarfed by its contemporaries, the giant sauropods. Some form of armor appears to have been necessary, as it coexisted with large predatory theropod dinosaurs, such as the fearsome Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus.

The hind feet each had three short toes, while each forefoot had five toes; only the inner two toes had a blunt hoof. All four limbs were supported by pads behind the toes. The forelimbs were much shorter than the stocky hindlimbs, which resulted in an unusual posture. The tail appears to have been held well clear of the ground, while the head of Stegosaurus was positioned relatively low down, probably no higher than 1 meter (3.3 ft) above the ground.

The long and narrow skull was small in proportion to the body. It had a small antorbital
Stegosaurus skull
 fenestra, the hole between the nose and eye common to most archosaurs, including modern birds, though lost in extant crocodylians. The skull's low position suggests that Stegosaurus may have been a browser of low-growing vegetation. This interpretation is supported by the absence of front teeth and their replacement by a horny beak or rhamphotheca. Stegosaurian teeth were small, triangular and flat; wear facets show that they did grind their food. The inset placement in the jaws suggests that Stegosaurus had cheeks to keep food in their mouths while they chewed.

Despite the animal's overall size, the braincase of Stegosaurus was small, being no larger than that of a dog. A well-preserved Stegosaurus braincase allowed Othniel Charles Marsh to obtain in the 1880s a cast of the brain cavity or endocast of the animal, which gave an indication of the brain size. The endocast showed that the brain was indeed very small, maybe the smallest among the dinosaurs. The fact that an animal weighing over 4.5 metric tons (5 short tons) could have a brain of no more than 80 grams (2.8 oz) contributed to the popular old idea that dinosaurs were unintelligent, an idea now largely rejected.

Most of the information known about Stegosaurus comes from the remains of mature animals; however more recently juvenile remains of Stegosaurus have been found. One sub-adult specimen, discovered in 1994 in Wyoming, is 4.6 meters (15 ft) long and 2 meters (7 ft) high, and is estimated to have weighed 2.3 metric tons (2.6 short tons) while alive. It is on display in the University of Wyoming Geological Museum. Even smaller skeletons, 210 centimeters (6.9 ft) long and 80 centimeters (2.6 ft) tall at the back, are on display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.


The origin of Stegosaurus is uncertain, as few remains of basal stegosaurs and their
Life Restoration (Picture Source)
 ancestors are known. Recently, stegosaurids have been shown to be present in the lower Morrison Formation, existing several million years before the occurrence of Stegosaurus itself, with the discovery of the related Hesperosaurus from the early Kimmeridgian. The earliest stegosaurid (the genus Lexovisaurus) is known from the Oxford Clay Formation of England and France, giving it an age of early to middle Callovian.

The earlier and more basal genus Huayangosaurus from the Middle Jurassic of China (some 165 million years ago) predates Stegosaurus by 20 million years and is the only genus in the family Huayangosauridae. Earlier still is Scelidosaurus, from Early Jurassic England, which lived approximately 190 million years ago. Interestingly, it possessed features of both stegosaurs and ankylosaurs. Emausaurus from Germany was another small quadruped, while Scutellosaurus from Arizona in the USA was an even earlier genus and was facultatively bipedal. These small, lightly armored dinosaurs were closely related to the direct ancestor of both stegosaurs and ankylosaurs. A trackway of a possible early armored dinosaur, from around 195 million years ago, has been found in France.

Discovery and species

Stegosaurus, one of the many dinosaurs first collected and described in the Bone Wars,
Articulated holotype of S. stenops (USNM 4934), known as the "road kill" specimen
 was originally named by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1877, from remains recovered north of Morrison, Colorado. These first bones became the holotype of Stegosaurus armatus. Marsh initially believed the remains were from an aquatic turtle-like animal, and the basis for its scientific name, 'roof(ed) lizard' was due to his early belief that the plates lay flat over the animal's back, overlapping like the shingles (tiles) on a roof. A wealth of Stegosaurus material was recovered over the next few years and Marsh published several papers on the genus. Initially, several species were described. However, many of these have since been considered to be invalid or synonymous with existing species, leaving two well-known and one poorly known species. Confirmed Stegosaurus remains have been found in the Morrison Formation's stratigraphic zones 2–6, with additional remains possibly referrable to Stegosaurus recovered from stratigraphic zone 1.Valid species

bulletStegosaurus armatus, meaning "armored roof lizard", was the first species to be found and is known from two partial skeletons, two partial skulls and at least thirty fragmentary individuals. This species had four horizontal tail spikes and relatively small plates. At 9 meters (30 ft), it was the longest species within the genus Stegosaurus.
bulletStegosaurus longispinus, meaning "long-spined roof lizard", was named by Charles W. Gilmore and known from one partial skeleton, from the Morrison Formation in Wyoming. Stegosaurus longispinus was notable for its set of four unusually long tail spines. Some consider it a species of Kentrosaurus. Like S. stenops, it grew to 7 meters (23 ft) in length.
bulletStegosaurus stenops, meaning "narrow-faced roof lizard", was named by Marsh in 1887, with the holotype having been collected by Marshal Felch at Garden Park, north of Cañon City, Colorado, in 1886. This is the best-known species of Stegosaurus, mainly because its remains include at least one complete articulated skeleton. It had large, broad plates and four tail spikes. Stegosaurus stenops is known from at least 50 partial skeletons of adults and juveniles, one complete skull and four partial skulls. It was shorter than S. armatus, at 7 meters (23 ft).

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Bay State Replicas - Skull, Dorsal Vertebra, Dorsal Fin Plate, Fin Plate & Tail Spike

Black Hills Institute - Complete Skeleton, Skull