Article | Updated 10 years ago

Illustration of a Leaellynasaura
Leaellynasaura amicagraphica
Image Peter Schouten

Illustration of a Leaellynasaura

Image Peter Schouten

Small, mid-Cretaceous ornithopods, like Leaellynasaura, have turned out to be quite remarkable dinosaurs.

Small ornithopods receive little mention in popular science literature compared to their famous meat-eating relatives. Despite a lack of deadly teeth and claws, they were remarkable — they could survive and even thrive in cold environments. Recent preliminary research suggests that Leaellynasaura might have had a super-long, flexible tail (longer than we have shown in our conservative reconstruction). This dinosaur lived in a polar region, and it is likely it had skin with some sort of hair-like filaments. By wrapping a long and fluffy tail around its body, Leaellynasaura could have endured cold snaps during winter.

(110 million years ago)

Southern Australia 110 million years ago

Fast growers

The leg bones of Leaellynasaura and other small ornithopods, found in the Early Cretaceous rocks of Victoria, come in all different sizes. From the bone structure, scientists have concluded that these dinosaurs grew very quickly during the first three years of their lives. After that, overall growth slowed down and varied according to seasons.

Big eyes

The skull of Leaellynasaura has large eye sockets, as do those of other small ornithopods found elsewhere, indicating they were active in lowlight conditions. This dinosaur lived in the southern polar region and during winter the Sun would not have risen above the horizon for weeks on end. However the area would have been surprisingly well lit during the winter, even at night. This is because back then, as well as now, skies over polar areas have natural light displays, called aurora, and the snow reflects these as well as the light of the moon.


The brightness of the snow reflecting the light from this aurora

Polar night sky


Image copyright WA Museum 

Leaellynasaura amicagraphica


Diet Plants
Height 0.4m
Length 1.0m
Width 0.2m