In the early days of the Jurassic, carnivorous dinosaurs were getting fancy. Dilophosaurus, Cryolophosaurus, Sinosaurus... all these sharp-toothed representatives of their age bore flashy crests atop their skulls. Now paleontologist Wang Guo-Fu and colleagues have added another to the list - a crested theropod they've named Shuangbaisaurus.

Relatively little of Shuangbaisaurus has come to the surface so far. Wang and coauthors based their description on a partial cranium and lower jaw. Still, the ornamentation of this dinosaur is different from crested forms found elsewhere. The preserved portions of the crests stick out just above the eyes, offering just a hint of what were certainly larger structures in life.

So why were these early theropods so showy? That's still a mystery. Sexual display is a popular answer, but that's difficult to demonstrate in the fossil record. (Especially given that no non-avian dinosaur has been found to show sexual dimorphism, the classic hallmark of sexual selection.) Species recognition is also possible, but is also hard to pick out. And, of course, these explanations are not mutually exclusive and may not touch on the real reasons at all. We'd have to go back to the days of the Early Jurassic and follow Shuangbaisaurus and its relatives around. Still, the crests are a reminder that dinosaurs were living animals that wore striking decorations to communicate with others of their kind. Figuring our what those messages were keeps us going back into the fossil record to see if we might decode them from the bones.

The skull of Shuangbaisaurus from above, showing the distortion of the snout. Credit: Wang et al 2017

Fossil Facts

Name: Shuangbaisaurus anlongbaoensis

Meaning: Shuangbaisaurus means "Shuangbai lizard", in reference to the county where the fossil was found, and anlongbaoensis is a reference to the local town whose name means "dragon-placing fort."

Age: Jurassic, over 175 million years ago.

Where in the world?: Yunnan, China.

What sort of organism?: A theropod dinosaur.

Size: Unknown

How much of the organism’s is known?: A partial skull with a lower jaw.


Wang, G., You, H., Pan, S., Wang, T. 2017. A new created theropod dinosaur from the Early Jurassic of Yannan Province, China. Vertebrata PalAsiatica. 55 (2): 177-186

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