Species: Camarasaurus lentus (Ka-ma-ra-sore-us lent-us)
What it means: Chambered lizard
Other Species: C. supremus, C. grandis, and C. lewisi
Where I live: Western U.S.A.- The Morrison Formation
When to find me: The Late Jurassic period, about 155-145 million years ago.
My favorite food: Plants! I’m an herbivore.
My neighborhood: The Morrison Formation covers a huge expanse of land with a variety of different habitats teaming with life. Most of it was very much like the Serengeti of modern day Africa, only with prairies of drought-tolerant ferns and cycad relatives instead of grass. Dense woodlands of tall conifers like the modern araucaria, ginkgoes, and tree ferns would only lie in places of plentiful water such as the few permanent rivers. Other areas had far more sparse and shrubbier vegetation like the open woodlands of acacia trees in the Serengetti.
Life in this environment would’ve adapted to long months of harsh drought, followed by a few months of monsoon that flooded the rivers. Many of the larger herbivores may have migrated like the herds in Africa do today, while most carnivores stayed behind to feast on the dead and dying, or else become opportunistic hunters of less traditional diets for lean times, such as fish or turtles in the rivers.
A few of my neighbors: First let me share my herbivorous friends…
- Long-necked sauropods like Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Barosaurus, Suuwassea, Supersaurus, Haplocanthosaurus, and Dystrophaeus.
- Armored dinosaurs like Stegosaurus, Hesperosaurus, Mymoorapelta, and Gargoyleosaurus.
- Two-legged ornithopods like Dryosaurus, Camptosaurus, and Nanosaurus
The predators in the neighborhood include dinosaurs like Allosaurus, Torvosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Saurophaganax, Marshosaurus, Stokesosaurus, Ornitholestes, Coelurus, Tanycolagreus, Elaphrosaurus, and Koparion.
Plus there are all the tiny critters on the ground I try not to step on…countless lizards, crocodile relatives on land and water, mammals, frogs, turtles, fish. Some of the pterosaurs flying in the sky help me with any bugs that might try to bite me.
- Camarasaurus gets its name from the greek kamara (vaulted chamber) + sauros (lizard). This was to describe the hollow spaces in its vertebrae, or back bones.
- Camarasaurus was the most common dinosaur in the Morrison Formation, like zebras in Africa!
- Many paleontologist think that Camarasaurus ate some of the tougher plants in the area. It would’ve reached for trees as tall as 20 ft, but may have preferred rough shrubs no taller than 6 ft. Tough plants wear down the teeth quickly, and preferred browsing height can be guessed by looking at the dinosaur’s neck.
- Why are there so many species of Camarasaurus living in the same area as so many other kinds of sauropods? Some paleontologists think that a few species of Camarasaurus are a direct line of relatives. C. grandis was found in the oldest layers of rock. C. lentus appeared later, and lived alongside C. grandis for several million years until its older cousin died out. Then C. lentus disappeared, just in time for C. supremus to walk on stage.
- Camarasaurus supremus was the largest species. Nearly twice as big as Camarasaurus lentus pictured in the size comparison!
- Camarasaurus lewisi has waffled between being described as a species of Camarasaurus and an entirely new animal, Cathetosaurus. As of 2013 it was officially determined to be different enough that Cathetosaurus is a valid genus. It was very similar in size and build to C. grandis and C. lentus, though it appeared later and was a bit smaller.
- Camarasaurus eggs have been found in long lines. Apparently the big mamas just laid their eggs as they walked and left them there! Perhaps they were buried in a sort of trench. Either way, the eggs were abandoned afterwards.
- Older Camarasaurus traveled in herds.
Fossil Finds: Hundreds of individuals, tracks, eggs… We have a great picture of how these animals lived, and can even learn about other animals in the area, like Allosaurus.
Mateus, O., & Tschopp E. (2013). Cathetosaurus as a valid sauropod genus and comparisons with Camarasaurus. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Program and Abstracts, 2013. 173.
Foster, John. Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and Their World. Indiana University Press, 2007
“Camarasaurus.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camarasaurus