Dinosaurs: Plateosaurus!

Plateosaurus . © 2015 Liz Vitale

After receiving my very first dinosaur book as a child, I was immediately interested in Plateosaurus. A female was featured on one of the first few pages. I loved that Plateosaurus was versatile: it could have walked on four legs and had the traditional “brontosaurian” look of the sauropods, yet it could possibly have walked on two legs like the major predators. I also had a toy set of dinosaurs that had a hind-legged-walking, slightly-long-necked dino included within that could have been Plateosaurus. I have since learned that Plateosaurus and other prosauropods are fairly obscure, mainly because they are considered rather plain and boring. I beg to differ.

Prosauropods were once thought to be the ancestors of sauropods, as if they were the “prototype” versions of the biggies such as Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus. Actually, the two groups are more like cousins; it looks as if prosauropods evolved parallel with the true ancestors of sauropods, which have yet to be definitively identified (though there are a number of likely candidates). In general,prosauropods had long necks, long tails(although nowhere near as long as sauropod necks and tails could get), and reached around 20 to 30 feet long. Plateosaurus had short but muscular arms and grasping hands with large claws on three fingers, which may have been helpful for slashing a predator across the face or to help it grasp tree limbs to pull down for feeding.

Plateosaurus lived about 222-219 million years ago, during the late Triassic period, in a dry,almost desert-like environment in what is now Europe, and  has been found in over 50 European locations. It was first described  and named by German paleontologist Hermann von Meyer in 1837. There has been confusion and dispute over the name “Plateosaurus”, as it has been taken to mean “flat lizard”. Scholars have suggested that the Greek platys – meaning “broad, flat, broad-shouldered” could be the reason for the “flat” part of the name, or Ancient Greek  platê,meaning “paddle”, “rudder” but In 1855, von Meyer published a detailed description of Plateosaurus with illustrations, and gave no details on the name. He repeatedly referred to its gigantic size and massive limbs, comparing Plateosaurus to large modern land mammals, but did not describe any important features that fit the terms “flat” or “shaped like an oar.”

Versatile posture,big claws and arguments over its name–not terribly boring to a dinosaur nerd!

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