Saltasaurus was a genus of medium-sized dinosaurs that belonged to the titanosaur sauropod group. They roamed the planet around 70 million years ago and were discovered relatively recently, around four decades back. This herbivore was one of the last sauropods that lived just before the group’s extinction.
|Species||† S. loricatus|
|Geological Period||Late Cretaceous, 70-65 million years ago|
|Size||12.8 meters (42 ft) (estimated maximum length as of 2013)|
|Height||Around 10 feet at its hips|
|Location/Distribution & Habitat||Dense forests of Argentina|
|Climate/Environment||Tropical and warm|
|Birth Type (Reproduction)||Oviparous|
|Locomotion||Quadruped (but could stand on two hind limbs)|
History and Discovery
It was between 1975 and 1977 that the first fossilized specimens of the Saltasaurus was discovered by paleontologists Jaime E. Powell and José Bonaparte. They unearthed partial skeletons and armors from at least five specimens from the southern regions of Argentina. Later, the two biologists named them in 1980.
Interestingly, the fossils of the prehistoric creature from the southern hemisphere exhibited characteristic features that they shared in common with the specimens from the northern hemisphere, belonging to the carnotaurine theropods and saltasaurine sauropods from South America and possessed duck bills, as well as nodosaurs that lived in North America.
While the females of the species laid almost 25 eggs in a single clutch, the fossilized specimens of these eggs have been unearthed with the embryos still intact inside the shells and preserved well. The newly-discovered creature was named Saltasaurus, which was derived from the name ‘Salta’, the Argentinian town from where these fossilized specimens were first excavated. Its name literally translates to, the lizard from Salta.
The creature was characterized by stubby limbs and a short neck. Saltasaurus was the first genus of sauropod that carried an armour made of bony plates, called osteoderms, embedded in the skin, quite much like in the titanosaurids. In fact, the back and both the sides of the animal was made of hundreds of such bony studs.
The tail of the creature was also quite flexible and probably had the capacity to rear up on the hind limbs for reaching the leaves in tall trees. They had cylindrical teeth having spatulate points, adapted to chewing rough and coarse plant matters.
The back of this animal was wide and strong enough, while the bones of the upper tail were also broad, and probably enabled the creature to use it as a prop, when needed. The bony plates, too, were used for protection from predators and enemies, if attacked from the back.
Despite being of medium size, they were still large herbivores that competed with the then-recent hadrosaurs.
Like other sauropods, the Saltasaurus too was probably social in nature, moving in small to medium size herds with a common nesting site where the females would produce a large number of eggs.
However, owing to their size difference, it is unlikely that the parents could provide care to the young offspring.
Most probably, they needed a minimum of 400-500 pounds of vegetation per day including cycads, seed ferns, gingkos, and other plant matters close to the ground level.
- They weighed as much as two Asian elephants and was about the size of a school bus.
- A Saltasaurus appeared in the TV series Dinosaur Planet in the episode Alpha’s Egg.
- The Saltasaurus is believed to eat the equivalent of 500 heads of lettuce.