Brachylophosaurus: The Elvis of Dinosaurs

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Brachylophosaurus may be its official name, but many affectionately know this relatively "new" dinosaur as "Elvis," due to its unusual head crest that resembles the famous rock 'n roll singer’s hair. Fossil collector and paleontologist Charles Sternberg first the dinosaur described it in 1953. No other specimens existed until noted dinosaur expert Jack Horner identified another Brachylophosaurus skeleton from Montana’s Judith River Formation during the 1980s.

Head Crest

The solid boned head crest extended from the snout, laid over the top of the dinosaur’s flat head and then finished with a stylish spike at the back. Aside from the Elvis hair comparison, it also looked a bit like a modern bike racing helmet, and perhaps served a similar head-protecting function. It’s possible that Brachylophosaurus engaged in head to head pushing contests, similar to how male animals with antlers or horns today will often fight for leadership status or choice females during the mating season.

Teeth and Diet

Brachylophosaurus was a duck-billed dinosaur, but its upper beak was larger and broader than that of most hadrosaurs. Both its upper and lower beaks encased jaws set with hundreds of teeth. Their position and the jaw structure suggest Brachylophosaurus chewed plant material from side to side, as cows and horses do today. Analysis of the preserved stomach contents of one individual reveal it ate ferns, conifers, magnolias and the pollen of more than 40 different plants.


Paleontologists in 2003 were surprised to discover the dinosaur suffered from cancer. They found at least four forms of the deadly disease in numerous Brachylophosaurus skeletons. Cancer appears to have been rare in other dinosaurs, or perhaps even limited to this species. Experts aren’t sure why, but they suspect genetic or environmental factors were to blame.

Guinness World Record Holder

Since its discovery in the early 1950s, a number of extremely well preserved Brachylophosaurus remains have been excavated. In 2003, a specimen, named Leonardo, was honored by the Guinness Book of Records as being "the best preserved dinosaur remains in the world." The certificate went on to say, "around 90 percent of the body is covered with fossilized soft tissue." Paleontologists value such dinosaur "mummies," since they provide rare tissue samples in addition to bone.

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