Relatively little is known about this prehistoric dinosaur, found in the frigid climate of Antarctica and named as a “frozen crested lizard”, or Cryolophosaurus, pronounced CRY-oh-LOAF-oh-SORE-us. The species type is Cryolophosaurus elliotti, or C. elliotti (Greek for “cold crested lizard”).
The prehistoric species existed around 190-185 million years ago. For a carnivorous predator of its early period of existence, it was rather large in comparison. Yet, when compared to the largest Allosaurus, Cryolophosaurus was relatively small.
Cryolophosaurus was likely a running predator that used its tail in both defense and aggression, taking down its attackers and prey with its massive whip-like tail which is thought to be the kind of massive appendage that could break a tree in half as the creature sauntered by flicking it like a modern cat.
What Did Cryolophosaurus Look Like?
Cryolophosaurus was a very large (21 feet or 6.5 meters) Theropod dinosaur and weighed well over a thousand pounds with trademark large trunk, thighs and large tall and narrow carnivorous head. There has been enough recovery to reveal trademark carnivorous forelimb claws, teeth and jaws.
Since not much is known about Cryolophosaurus, representations are imaginative; however, it is known that Cryolophosaurus was unique in cranial skeletal remains regarding its perpendicular and laterally-set crest which face forward on top of the skull. This feature extended over the eyes in what appeared to be almost separate horns, and similar protrusions exist below the eyes also. These are extensions of the skull which likely offered some protection to the eyes. It is not yet known for certain what else all this decoration may have served.
What Did Cryolophosaurus Eat?
Cryolophosaurus was a carnivore and the first meat-eating dinosaur to be discovered on Antarctica. Since no fossilized remains have yet been found to indicate specific stomach contents, it is difficult to know exactly what Cryolophosaurus preferred, yet it is evident that it had the large and powerful jaws, sharp teeth and damaging claws needed to grasp and tear at their prey until their hunger was satisfied. Some Cryolophosaurus remains have been found with other fossilized remains of much smaller animals that were comparable in size to today’s mice and rats. These mammals did diversify, but during the age of dinosaurs likely remained nocturnal and in low numbers.
These first mammals were tiny in comparison—often only a few inches long and weighing only ounces—to the dinosaur, and meekly scavenged on even smaller reptiles and insects. Their size lent well to their defense, enabling them to hide in the tall grasses.
It is even likely that mammals had experienced—at first—a more aggressive evolution. That is until the age of dinosaurs came to be, and greatly affected the progress of mammalian evolution. Staying small, mammals ultimately survived and outlived the age of the prehistoric dinosaur, but served as healthy diet during the life of Cryolophosaurus.
How Did Cryolophosaurus Move?
Shortened forelimbs typical of Theropods indicate a bipedal movement, and the large, tall and powerful legs and stout ankles indicate a fast-moving and powerful predatory creature. Add in Cryolophosaurus’ large whip-like tail which also lent great balance in stride and attack. Whether moving fast or ambling along on its two hind legs, its large muscles would have allowed for the quick and sudden movements of predation. It could likely knock a smaller animal down with either its tail or its powerful neck, digging into the ground for traction with its hind claws. The body of Cryolophosaurus would have operated in a largely horizontal mode, with its front and rear weight equalizing to the trunk on the bipedal stance. In speed, this horizontal positioning would have been a great aid in balance and aerodynamic feasibility.
Over time, the movement of Cryolophosaurus was affected by the movement of earth’s tectonic plates. It is significant that this dinosaur takes its name from the cold-natured land mass of Antarctica, where the prehistoric creature is not likely to have migrated on its own. Instead, the land itself traveled to the extreme cold of the Polar Regions. Still, the name given Cryolophosaurus is more indicative of the cooler temperatures and general climate that this species would have naturally experienced as its own atmosphere cooled down due to tectonics and other factors.
Where Did Cryolophosaurus Live?
Even though Cryolophosaurus remains were found on the plains of Antarctica, the actual land mass at the time of this species’ existence would have been a much warmer place. Still, the climate that Cryolophosaurus experienced would have been a much cooler climate than it was used to, having gone through changes in land mass location during the continental drift and ultimately becoming exposed to cooler temperatures than the mass previously exposed to. Everything would have been experiencing much change over time. Originally, the Antarctic would have been much closer to the equator, and also part of the larger continent of Pangaea. Still attached to the African continent along with South America and Australia, it is possible that as more specimens are found, Cryolophosaurus could be attributed to the Ceratosaur family. Either way, Cryolophosaurus could prove an important link in information regarding Theropod evolution, highlighting primitive ad advance features.
The Discovery of Cryolophosaurus
In 1991, paleontologist William Hammer with team discovered what appeared to be new findings in the world of prehistoric dinosaurs. Later excavated from the Beardmore Glacier region in the siliceous siltstone of the Hanson Rock Formation and named Cryolophosaurus, this dinosaur species was subsequently named Cryolophosaurus ellioti after David Elliot, who had made the initial discovery of the fossils. The recovery was excavated from rock that dated to the Pliensbachian stage of the Early Jurassic.
Found at an altitude of 13 thousand feet, and 400 miles from the South Pole, the remains of Cryolophosaurus include a crushed skull, mandible, 30 vertebrae, hip bones, leg bones with ankle and foot bones. It is notable that these were found in articulated natural form.
The restored skull may be seen at the Australian Museum in Sydney, and reflects the high and narrow casing typical of other Theropods. It is about 25 inches (65 centimeters) long and features the most unusual characteristic of this species type yet discovered—the vertical side to side nasal crest which reaches ear to ear.
The Cryolophosaurus Crest
The crest has been unofficially touted as the pompadour of Cryolophosaurus, and the species is sometimes referred to as Elvisaurus as a result. This unique dinosaur crest is just above the eyes where it rises up perpendicular to the flat top of the skull and has a fan-like appearance. It is an actual extension of the cranial bone and is fixed on both sides to tiny horns, or crests, that extend out above the eye sockets.
The Significance of Cryolophosaurus
Cryolophosaurus represents the oldest known Tetanuran from any continent and is the only specimen from the period of the Early Jurassic. The Tetanurae were stiff tailed dinosaurs named on cladistics grounds regarding vertebrate paleontology and were the first dinosaur to be so applied using the science of cladistics. Modern birds are today’s living representatives of the clade Tetanurae, and it is still not clear what the origins are, of Tetanurae. Among the bird-like features on dinosaurs of this type are the three-toed feet, a wishbone, air-filled bones, brooding of the eggs, and in some cases feathers. Cryolophosaurus still has much to reveal as scientists continue to discover new specimens.