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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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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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