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10 Things You Might Not Know About Triceratops

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Wikimedia Commons

Dinosaurs are still with us. They’ve stomped, chomped, and roared their way into our movies, our museums, and our imaginations. So let’s get ready to dig a little deeper. Today, we’re taking a closer look at everyone’s favorite three-horned herbivore, Triceratops. 

1. It’s the Official State Fossil of South Dakota

And lest anyone fear that Triceratops is still underappreciated, the creature is also Wyoming’s “State Dinosaur” (and, yes, that’s a separate category).

2. Those Distinctive Horns Changed Shape with Age

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Scientists have found that baby Triceratops had short, stubby horns. Over time, these began curving backward before pointing in the opposite direction and assuming their familiar form once their owner hit adulthood. Skip to the 12:10-mark in this awesome TED talk for more details:

3. Triceratops Duels Could Get Rather Nasty

These beasties had a knack for collecting battle scars—in a few very specific locations! Distinctive wounds are often found near the eye sockets and the base of the frills in Triceratops skulls. Why there? According to research conducted in 2009, the injuries were likely caused by adults locking their horns in combat.

4. T. rex Couldn’t Resist Nibbling on Triceratops Faces

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Thanks to some tell-tale bite marks, we know that not only would a hungry Tyrannosaurus sink its teeth into the occasional hunk of Triceratops, but the predator would frequently target its delicate facial tissue in the process (though less-meaty regions of the skull were largely ignored).

5. The Price of a Decent Triceratops Skull has Gone Through the Roof

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Not even dinosaurs are inflation-proof. In 1997, the average Triceratops skull (harvested by fossil collectors) cost roughly $2500. Nowadays, museums and private dinosaur-fanciers alike generally have to shell out well over ten times as much to get their hands on one!

6. Triceratops Had Good Posture

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Old paintings depict Triceratops’ front legs sprawling out to the side, similar to those of a modern crocodile. However, a re-analysis of its elbow joint showed that the beast maintained an upright, rhinoceros-like gait instead.

7. Triceratops Was Originally Mistaken for an Overgrown Bison

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During the American Gilded Age, paleontologist Othneil Charles Marsh received a pair of fossilized horn fragments which he thought belonged to a giant, prehistoric bovine. But subsequent discoveries from the area convinced him that what he’d found was, in fact, a dinosaur, which Marsh eventually named “Triceratops” (meaning “Three-Horned Face”). 

8. In 1889, Somebody Actually Tried Lassoing A Triceratops.

While exploring the badlands of Wyoming, one of Marsh’s associates—a brilliant scientist named John Bell Hatcher—was approached by a rancher who’d spotted a huge, mysterious skull on his property. It turned out to have been one of the very first Triceratops specimens ever discovered. Oblivious to its significance, the cattleman attempted to haul off his treasure by throwing a lasso over one of its horns … which promptly snapped off.

9. Triceratops’ Head Was Nearly One-Third the Length of Its Body

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No doubt about it: Triceratops had one heck of a noggin, which could stretch 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) from end to end. By comparison, the critter’s entire body reached a total length of around 8 meters (26.25 feet).

10. Its Name Was Wrongly Pronounced “Dead” By the Media

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Let the record show—once and for all—that while Triceratops may be extinct, its scientific name isn’t going anywhere. Why bring this up? For several years, the press has been erroneously claiming that Triceratops Never Existed.

The confusion began in 2010, when paleontologist Jack Horner co-authored a paper in which he argued that Triceratops and Torosaurus (a related dino) were really one and the same. No organism can (academically) go by two monikers, so, if Horner turns out to have been right, one of these titles would have to be discarded. But, have no fear, fellow fossil nerds! The more recognizable name was coined two years earlier and, hence, has seniority. So, we might lose Torosaurus, but we’ll still have Triceratops! 

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

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