10 Facts About Lambeosaurus, the Hatchet-Crested Dinosaur

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Meet Lambeosaurus, the Hatchet-Crested Dinosaur

lambeosaurus drawing
Dmitry Bogdanov

With its distinctive, hatchet-shaped head crest, Lambeosaurus was one of the world's most recognizable duck-billed dinosaurs. Here are 10 fascinating Lambeosaurus facts.

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The Crest of Lambeosaurus Was Shaped Like a Hatchet

lambeosaurus skull
American Mueum of Natural History

The most distinctive feature of Lambeosaurus was the oddly shaped crest on this dinosaur's head, which looked like an upside-down hatchet—the "blade" sticking out from its forehead, and the "handle" jutting out over the back of its neck. This hatchet differed in shape between the two named Lambeosaurus species, and it was more prominent in males than it was in females.

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The Crest of Lambeosaurus Had Multiple Functions

lambeosaurus skeleton
Wikimedia Commons

As with most such structures in the animal kingdom, it's unlikely that Lambeosaurus evolved its crest as a weapon, or as a means of defense against predators. More likely, this crest was a sexually selected characteristic (that is, males with bigger, more prominent hatchets were more attractive to females during mating season), and it may also have changed color, or funneled blasts of air, to communicate with other members of the herd (like the equally giant crest of another North American duck-billed dinosaur, Parasaurolophus).

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The Type Specimen of Lambeosaurus Was Discovered in 1902

lambeosaurus skeleton in a case
American Museum of Natural History

One of Canada's most famous paleontologists, Lawrence Lambe, spent much of his career exploring the late Cretaceous fossil deposits of Alberta Province. But while Lambe managed to identify (and name) such famous dinosaurs as Chasmosaurus, Gorgosaurus and Edmontosaurus, he missed out on the opportunity of doing the same for Lambeosaurus, and didn't pay nearly as much attention to its type fossil, which he discovered in 1902.

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Lambeosaurus Has Gone by Many Different Names

lambeosaurus depiction
Julio Lacerda

When Lawrence Lambe discovered the type fossil of Lambeosaurus, he assigned it to the shaky genus Trachodon, erected a generation before by Joseph Leidy. Over the next two decades, additional remains of this duck-billed dinosaur were assigned to the now-discarded genera Procheneosaurus, Tetragonosaurus and Didanodon, with similar confusion revolving around its various species. It wasn't until 1923 that another paleontologist paid honor to Lambe by coining a name that stuck for good: Lambeosaurus.

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There Are Two Valid Lambeosaurus Species

artists rendering of a lambeosaurus
Nobu Tamura

What a difference a hundred years makes. Today, all the confusion surrounding Lambeosaurus has been whittled down to two verified species, L. lambei and L. magnicristatus. Both of these dinosaurs were about the same size—about 30 feet long and 4 to 5 tons—but the latter had an especially prominent crest. (Some paleontologists argue for a third Lambeosaurus species, L. paucidens, which has yet to make any headway in the wider scientific community.)

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Lambeosaurus Grew and Replaced Its Teeth Throughout Its Lifetime

lambeosaurus skull
Wikimedia Commons

Like all hadrosaurs, or duck-billed dinosaurs, Lambeosaurus was a confirmed vegetarian, browsing on low-lying vegetation. To this end, the jaws of this dinosaur were packed with over 100 blunt teeth, which were constantly replaced as they wore out. Lambeosaurus was also one of the few dinosaurs of its time to possess rudimentary cheeks, which allowed it to chew more efficiently after clipping off tough leaves and shoots with its characteristically duck-like beak.

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Lambeosaurus Was Closely Related to Corythosaurus

corythosaurus model
Safari Toys

Lambeosaurus was a close—one might almost say indistinguishable—relative of Corythosaurus, the "Corinthian-helmeted lizard" that also inhabited the Alberta badlands. The difference is that the crest of Corythosaurus was rounder and less eccentrically oriented, and that this dinosaur preceded Lambeosaurus by a few million years. (Oddly enough, Lambeosaurus also shared some affinities with the roughly contemporaneous hadrosaur Olorotitan, which lived way off in eastern Russia!)

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Lambeosaurus Lived in a Rich Dinosaur Ecosystem

Gorgosaurus with its mouth open

Lambeosaurus was far from the only dinosaur of late Cretaceous Alberta. This hadrosaur shared its territory with various horned, frilled dinosaurs (including Chasmosaurus and Styracosaurus), ankylosaurs (including Euplocephalus and Edmontonia), and tyrannosaurs like Gorgosaurus, which probably targeted aged, sick or juvenile Lambeosaurus individuals. (Northern Canada, by the way, had a much more temperate climate 75 million years ago than it does today!)

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It Was Once Thought That Lambeosaurus Lived in the Water

lambeosaurus tail
Dmitry Bogdanov

Paleontologists once entertained the idea that multi-ton herbivorous dinosaurs like sauropods and hadrosaurs lived in the water, believing these animals would otherwise have collapsed under their own weight! As late as the 1970's, scientists broached the idea that one Lambeosaurus species pursued a semi-aquatic lifestyle, given the size of its tail and the structure of its hips. (Today, we do know that at least some dinosaurs, like the giant Spinosaurus, were accomplished swimmers.)

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One Species of Lambeosaurus Has Been Reclassified as Magnapaulia

artist rendering of Magnapaulia
Nobu Tamura

It has been the fate of various once-accepted Lambeosaurus species to be assigned to other dinosaur genera. The most dramatic example is L. laticaudus, a gigantic hadrosaur (about 40 feet long and 10 tons) unearthed in California in the early 1970's, which was assigned as a species of Lambeosaurus in 1981 and then upgraded in 2012 to its own genus, Magnapaulia ("Big Paul," after Paul G. Haaga, the president of the board of trustees of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History).

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Strauss, Bob. "10 Facts About Lambeosaurus, the Hatchet-Crested Dinosaur." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/lambeosaurus-the-hatchet-crested-dinosaur-1093809. Strauss, Bob. (2021, February 16). 10 Facts About Lambeosaurus, the Hatchet-Crested Dinosaur. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/lambeosaurus-the-hatchet-crested-dinosaur-1093809 Strauss, Bob. "10 Facts About Lambeosaurus, the Hatchet-Crested Dinosaur." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/lambeosaurus-the-hatchet-crested-dinosaur-1093809 (accessed June 4, 2023).