Temporal range: Late Cretaceous
Le Loeuff, 1995
Ampelosaurus (// AM-pi-lo-SAWR-əs; meaning "vine lizard") is a titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur hailing from the Late Cretaceous Period of what is now Europe. Recent media attention has made Ampelosaurus arguably one of the most famous dinosaurs known from France.
Like most sauropods, it would have had a long neck and tail but it also carried armor in the form of osteoderms on its back. This dinosaur would have stretched about 15 meters (50 feet) from snout to tail.
Compared with the condition in the basal titanosauriform Giraffatitan brancai, the labyrinth of Ampelosaurus sp. shows a reduced morphology. The latter feature is possibly related to a restricted range of head-turning movements.
French paleontologist Jean Le Loeuff first described and named this dinosaur in 1995. The generic name is derived from the Greek words ampelos ("vine") and sauros ("lizard"), because the original fossil remains were found near the Blanquette de Limoux vineyard in southern France. There is one named species (A. atacis), which is named after the nearby Aude River, which is called Atax in Latin.
Ampelosaurus was originally found near the commune of Campagne-sur-Aude in the Aude département of France. It was recovered in the lower levels of the Marnes Rouges Inférieures Formation, which belong to the early Maastrichtian epoch of the Late Cretaceous Period, ~ 70 million years ago. These sediments represent an ancient floodplain with numerous river channels.
The first remains were found in a bonebed discovered in 1989, which produced numerous ribs and vertebrae from the back and tail, as well as many limb bones, but no skull material aside from one tooth. Four osteoderms of different sizes and shapes were also recovered from this bonebed. This material comes from several different individuals. Since 1989, more material has been uncovered in the same region of France, including a relatively complete skeleton with some elements of the skull and lower jaw.
Characteristics of the tail vertebrae and the presence of osteoderms indicate that Ampelosaurus belongs to Lithostrotia, a group of derived titanosaurians which also includes Alamosaurus and Saltasaurus (Upchurch et al., 2004). However, this has not been shown conclusively as Ampelosaurus has never been included in a cladistic analysis.
A complete skeleton of Ampelosaurus can be seen at Dinosauria, a museum specialized in dinosaurs and situated in the same area where the skeleton was discovered.
Ampelosaurus is now the best known sauropod from Europe. Others include Magyarosaurus from Hungary and an unnamed species from Catalonia, Spain. Numerous other fragments and isolated bones may or may not belong to any of these forms (Le Loeuff, 1995). While most titanosaurs are found in the southern continents of Gondwana, several derived species are known from Maastrichtian sediments in the Northern Hemisphere, including Alamosaurus in North America and Opisthocoelicaudia in Asia, indicating that there must have been at least intermittent connections between the northern and southern continents. This seems to be corroborated by the European find of Tarascosaurus, a Late Cretaceous theropod dinosaur similar to the abelisaurids, otherwise known only from the southern continents.
- Knoll, F.; Ridgely, R. C.; Ortega, F.; Sanz, J. L.; Witmer, L. M. (2013). "Neurocranial Osteology and Neuroanatomy of a Late Cretaceous Titanosaurian Sauropod from Spain (Ampelosaurus sp.)". In Butler, Richard J. PLoS ONE 8: e54991. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054991.
- Le Loeuff, J. 2005. Osteology of Ampelosaurus atacis (Titanosauria) from Southern France. In: Tidwell, V. & Carpenter, K. (Eds.). Thunder-Lizards: The Sauropodomorph Dinosaurs. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Pp. 115–137.
- Upchurch, P., Barrett, P.M. & Dodson, P. 2004. Sauropoda. In: Weishampel, D.B., Dodson, P., & Osmolska, H. (Eds.) The Dinosauria (2nd Edition). Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 259–322.
- Le Loeuff, J. 1995. Ampelosaurus atacis (nov. gen., nov. sp.), un nouveau Titanosauridae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda) du Crétacé supérieur de la Haute Vallée de l’Aude (France). Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences Paris (series IIa). 321: 693-699.
- Le Loeuff, J. & Buffetaut, E. 1991. Tarascosaurus salluvicus, new genus, new species, a theropod dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous of southern France. Géobios. 25: 585-594.