Elvis Presley. Bruno Mars. Cryolophosaurus.
These three creatures have one thing in common, and it’s not their singing voice.
It’s that pompadour!
But before we get to that gorgeous hair, a little history is in order.
Cryolophosaurus was Discovered in Antarctica in 1991
The first Cryolophosaurus fossils were discovered in 1991 in the Hanson Formation of Antarctica by paleontologist Dr. William Hammer.
This groundbreaking discovery not only introduced the world to a new species of dinosaur but also demonstrated definitively that dinosaurs lived on every continent.
Although technically dinosaur fossils were discovered in Antarctica as early as 1901 (by British geologist David Meredith Seares Watson), it wasn’t until 90 years later with the discovery of Cryolophosaurus that Antarctica began to gain recognition as a significant site for dinosaur research.
That Pompadour: The Crest of Cryolophosaurus
The Cryolophosaurus is fairly large and was likely the apex predator of its time at 23 feet long and 10 feet tall at the hips. In metric, that’s 7 meters long and 3 meters tall.
However, the most striking physical feature of this theropod is definitely that crest.
The crest is so unusual it led paleontologists to classify it as closely related to Dilophosaurus. Although further study has placed our guy further up his clade, the crest is still the most distinctive feature 190 million years later.
A few quick facts:
- The crest likely varied in size and shape between individual Cryos and between males and females, with males generally having larger crests
- The crests may have been very colorful as evidenced by blood vessels that supplied soft tissue
- The crests may have continued to grow throughout a Cryo’s life
With these facts, we can easily paint a picture that Cryolophosaurus was:
- A social creature, with the crests coloring and size playing a key role in social interactions
- Distinctive amongst the creatures at the time
- and FLY AS ALL GET OUT
A Tale of Tetanurae Tails
Once you get over how good the Cryo’s hair looks, you might be tempted to look to the tail.
N0, not like that!
You see, the tail of Cryolophosaurus is an interesting specimen for early Tetanurans.
Dinosaurs such as Dilophosaurus had long, flexible tails as early members of the Tetanurae. As these species evolved, however, these tails got shorter and stiffer as a counterbalance to the growing skulls, such as those of Tyrannosaurus in the Cretaceous.
The name Tetanurae, or “stiff tails,” refers to this adaptation, a transition point in the tail sequence where the vertebrae change form in a distinctive way.
What’s interesting is that Cryolophosaurus, in the early Jurassic, far earlier than other Tetanurans, was already sporting a shorter, less flexible tail! A trait that other Tetanurans would take millions of years to develop.
Of course, when you see an odd trait in a species, you must look to its environment.
The Cryo’s Antarctica Was Much Different Than Ours
During the Early Jurassic period, around 190 million years ago, Antarctica was located much closer to the equator than it is today.
As a result, the climate of Antarctica during this time was much warmer and more temperate than it is now. It was not a frozen wasteland. Instead, it was a lush, active region covered in forests and teeming with life.
Antarctica was covered in conifers and ferns, which suggests that the climate was relatively mild and humid. The presence of fossils of reptiles and other animals that require warmer temperatures also supports the idea that the climate was mild.
During this time, Antarctica experienced seasonal variations in temperature and daylight, with summers being warmer and sunnier than winters. The extreme cold and ice sheets that characterize modern-day Antarctica had not yet developed.
Over the course of the Jurassic period, Antarctica drifted southward and became more isolated from other continents, land along for the ride South was our stylish apex predator.
The Hunting Style of Cryolophosaurus
Our super sleek biped tore through Antarctica in its lifetime like college kids on spring break.
It’s relatively short, deep skull and sharp teeth suggest it was a brutal and efficient hunter, likely making easy game of a variety of herbivorous dinosaurs, such as the long-necked prosauropods and the armored Scelidosaurus, as well as smaller, more agile prey like early mammals and reptiles.
Cryolophosaurus likely had a range of adaptations that allowed it to successfully hunt and compete with other predators in its environment, although the details of these adaptations are still being studied today.
Where To Classify Cryolophosaurus?
When Cryolophosaurus was first discovered, it was initially classified as a member of the Dilophosauridae family due to its distinctive crest.
However, subsequent research has placed it as an early member of the larger group, Tetanurae, which includes Allosaurus and many other well-known theropods.
This debate has centered around the interpretation of various anatomical features of Cryolophosaurus, including its skull morphology, dental characteristics, and overall body plan.
Some researchers have argued that Cryolophosaurus shares more features in common with Dilophosaurus and other early theropods than with later Tetanurae, while others have pointed to similarities with Allosaurus and other more derived Tetanurae.
At DinoPit, we don’t like to take sides. But we do like a good fight between researchers. Understanding where the Cryolophosaurus stands in its taxonomy with its gorgeous ‘do will provide insight into the evolution of dinosaurs throughout history and the natural world at large.
And 190 million years later, this apex predator is still doing it in style!