10 Thick-Skinned Facts About Saltasaurus
Saltasaurus challenged many assumptions about the largest land-dwelling animals of all time. Pretty impressive for a dino whose big screen debut was a low-budget bikini movie!
1. It was the First Armored Long-Necked Dinosaur Known to Science.
Before Saltasaurus came to light in 1980, most experts believed that when predators came calling, sauropods (long-necked dinos) simply fended them off with their sheer size and whip-like tails. But this creature took things up a notch: Saltasaurus’ hide, surprised paleontologists found, was chock full of thick, bony knobs. Clearly, biting into this animal would’ve required caution.
2. Some Isolated Saltasaurus Bones Were Mistaken for Pieces of a Very Different Creature.
They say that when you hear hoof beats, you should think horses, not zebras. During the 1920s, fossil hunter Friedrich von Henne located samples of what we now know was Saltasaurus armor. But since armor-plated sauropods were unheard of back then, he deduced that these came from a tank-like critter called an ankylosaur.
3. Saltasaurus was Relatively Small (Compared to its Cousins, That Is).
Some of the biggest dinos ever found hail from its impressive family. Known technically as titanosaurs, this group included thunderous giants like the 85-foot Dreadnoughtus and Argentinosaurus, a giant which may have been over 110 feet long—enough to rival a modern blue whale (though this marine mammal almost certainly out-weighed it). By comparison, 40-foot Saltasaurus seems downright dwarfish.
4. Before Anyone Asks, Saltasaurus Is Not Named After Table Salt.
So far as we can tell, Saltasaurus lacked any special connection with that stuff vendors sprinkle over pretzels. It's named for Salta, the Argentinian city near where this beastie’s first remains were found.
5. It Had Spongy Tail Vertebrae.
Smallish air-filled holes cover these bones, an adaptation that would have significantly lightened them.
6. It Also Had a Wide, Barrel-Shaped Body.
Digesting enough food to keep a 40-foot vegetarian up and running requires lots of belly space—so, as you can see in this reconstruction, Saltasaurus had quite the bloated midsection.
7. Scores of Saltasaurus-Like Mothers Frequented the Same Nesting Grounds.
Aucha Mahuevo is a breathtaking Patagonian site in which hundreds of exquisite dino eggs have been found. And they’re not scattered around haphazardly, either—instead, they form neat clutches of 15-34 spaced roughly two to three yards apart.
8. A (Probable) Saltasaurus Embryo Has Been Unearthed.
Dinosaur eggs are cool, but their contents are cooler still. Aucha Mahuevo’s yielded a few fossilized embryos which look suspiciously like unborn Saltasaurus, complete with pebbly, well-preserved skin.
9. Those Armored Plates Might have Emerged as Saltasaurus Grew.
Unlike adult Saltasaurus, the aforementioned embryos lacked genuine bone in their hides—but paleontologists Rodolfo A. Coria and Luis M. Chiappe argue that perhaps this dino’s famous dermal armor didn’t start developing until after it hatched.
10. Saltasaurus is Responsible for Much of What We Know About its Family.
The wilds of South America have produced several decent Saltasaurus skeletons—but the same can't be said for other titanosaurs. To date, Argentinosaurus, for instance, has left us with nothing but a partial leg bone, some vertebrae, and a few ribs. Thankfully, stunning Saltasaurus can help scientists fill these gaps in our knowledge as they try to decipher what these long-gone Goliaths really looked like.