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9 Things You Might Not Know About Baby Dinosaurs

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We may not be able to directly observe them (with the obvious exception of Baby Sinclair), but newborn dinosaurs have given paleontologists around the globe magnificent insight into how these amazing creatures grew, lived, and reproduced nevertheless. Here are some of the most striking discoveries.

1. Fetal Dinosaurs Flexed Before Hatching

Compelling evidence in the fossilized remains of embryonic Lufengosaurus (a species of long-necked Chinese herbivore) suggests that at least some unborn dinosaurs kicked and wriggled prior to breaking free of their shells, activities which stimulate bone growth in modern-day mammals and birds.

2. A Baby Dinosaur Was “Mummified” In Italy

According to some experts, a juvenile Scipionyx (which was later nicknamed “Ciro”) may have been less than three weeks old when it perished some 113 million years ago in what’s now southern Italy. Its remains are so spectacularly preserved that joints, ligaments, and even internal organs are visible (including the stomach, which shows that Ciro was rather fond of smaller reptiles and the occasional fish), making the little creature one of the most complete dinosaur specimens known to science.

3. Adolescent Triceratops Went Through Some Serious Shape-Shifting

A positively adorable baby Triceratops skull discovered in 2006 helped complete a study on the iconic dinosaur’s growth patterns which yielded some surprising results (you can see the various phases here) as paleontologist Jack Horner explains in this eye-opening TED talk (skip to the 13:05 mark):

4. Baby Dinosaurs Were Occasionally Gobbled Up By Large Mammals

When the opossum-sized Repenomamus robustus was first unearthed in 2000, the remains of an infant Psittacosaurus were found in its gut. For a dramatized recreation of its dino-guzzling antics, click here

5. … And Prehistoric Snakes

At over 11 feet in length, hefty serpents like Sanajeh indicus apparently had little difficulty invading the unguarded nests and eating the young of even the largest dinosaurs, as evidenced by a skeleton that was found coiled around a group of Titanosaur eggs back in 2010.

6. Some Had Bushy Tails

Known only from the fossilized carcass of a 28-inch hatchling, the species named Sciurumimus—or “squirrel mimic”— grew a layer of downy, feather-like structures on its tail at an early age, though it’s not likely that the pint-sized predator also went around collecting acorns.

7. Baby Dino Tracks Were Found In Colorado

The tennis-ball-sized footprints have been attributed to the dinosaur formerly known as Brontosaurus: Apatosaurus ajax, a massive herbivore which would have easily weighed in at over 20 tons when fully-grown. Curiously, these miniature tracks imply that their maker was running on its hind legs at the time, a feat its gargantuan parents most definitely couldn’t pull off.

8. “Duck Billed” Dinosaurs Grew Faster Than Their Carnivorous Counterparts

Hatchling hadrosaurs (aka “duck-bills”) faced a particularly jarring challenge. A lack of any obvious defense mechanisms such as horns or plated armor is an unenviable situation for any potential prey item, but a 2008 study found that the seemingly-helpless animals defended themselves by simply outgrowing their predators, sometimes reaching full size at three to five times the rate of local Tyrannosaurs.

9. Some Dinosaurs May Have Laid Their Eggs In Other Species’ Nests

Egg-laying can be a sneaky business. Rather than go through the effort of raising their own young, some modern birds such as the European Cuckoo simply deposit theirs in the nest of unsuspecting songbirds to trick the unwitting victims into feeding and nurturing the crafty avian’s young.

While it’s a speculative conclusion, Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History has turned to this Machiavellian strategy as a potential explanation for why a pair of Velociraptor-like hatchlings (or possibly embryos) were found in an Oviraptor’s nest (though Norell also offered some more conservative conclusions, such as that the mother simply made a snack of the two raptors).

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Slow Motion Is the Only Way to Appreciate a Chameleon’s Lightning-Fast Tongue
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From the unusual way they walk, to their ability to change color, the evolutionary adaptations of chameleons are pretty bizarre, and some of them remain mysterious even to scientists. Their super-powered tongues, for instance, can dart out so quickly that the movement can barely be seen with the naked eye. But modern high-speed cameras have enabled researchers at the University of South Dakota to observe this appendage at work like never before. The video below, shared over at The Kid Should See This, includes some of that groundbreaking footage, and it's pretty amazing to watch.

Shooting at 3000 frames per second, the camera was able to capture every split-second aspect of the chameleon's tongue strike. Slowed down, the video allows you to see how every component of the process works in harmony: First, muscles in the lizard’s tongue contract like the string of a bow. Then, when that tension is released, the bony base of the tongue shoots forward, pushing the sticky, elastic part toward the chameleon’s prey.

According to Christopher Anderson, one of the scientists who conducted the high-speed camera research, larger chameleons can catapult their tongues forward at distances of one to two times their body length. For smaller chameleons, this distance can reach up to two and a half times their body length. “Small chameleons need to be able to eat more food for their body size than large chameleons,” he tells bioGraphic in the video, “and so by being able to project their tongues proportionately further than these large species, they basically are opening up additional feeding opportunities to themselves that they wouldn’t have if they had a shorter tongue.”

To see one of nature’s greatest hunting tools in action, check out the full video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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