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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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Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
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Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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