Psittacosaurus (Sit-tah-coe-sore-us), or the ‘parrot lizard’, was a small plant eating dinosaur that lived in Mongolia and China during the Early Cretaceous, 100 to 120 million years ago. About the size of a large dog, this peaceful creature used its beak and rough teeth to cut and crush tough plants. Recent discoveries revealed the skin color and pattern of Psittacosaurus and also showed that it had an unusual row of bristles along the top of its tail.
Genera and Species
Classification: Marginocephalia, Ceratopsia, Psittacosauridae
Species: Psittacosaurus mongoliensis
Psittacosaurus was a small herbivore with a deep beak reminiscent of a parrot’s. It had a very wide head with spikes that protruded from its cheeks. It walked on two legs, but could also rest on its shorter arms. A row of long bristles protruded from top of its tail.
LENGTH: 2 meters (6.5 ft). WEIGHT: 44 lbs.
A wealth of fossil material, including adults, juveniles, and babies, makes Psittacosaurus one of the best-known of all the dinosaurs. Soft tissues have even been found preserved in a Psittacosaurus skeleton discovered in Liaoning Province, China. This impressive fossil shows the outline of the body and even indicates the color and pattern of the skin, which was darker on top and lighter underneath. It also shows a row of bristles running along the top of the tail, which may have been for show.
Psittacosaurus was a ceratopsian dinosaur, the group that includes the famous horned Triceratops. Both of these dinosaurs share key characters such as a beak and cheek spikes. However, Psittacosaurus is a much older and smaller cousin, only about the size of a large dog.
History of Discovery
Psittacosaurus was first discovered in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, during an expedition organized by the American Museum of Natural History in 1922. Psittacosaurus was described and named the following year. Its name translates as ‘parrot lizard’ because it had a deep, curved beak reminiscent of a parrot’s.
Some species of Psittacosaurus lived in the arid environments of Early Cretaceous Mongolia, while others occupied the forested wetlands of Early Cretaceous China.