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10 Things You Might Not Know About Triceratops

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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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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

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
Elusive Butterfly Sighted in Scotland for the First Time in 133 Years

Conditions weren’t looking too promising for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that’s native to the UK. Threatened by habitat loss, the butterfly's numbers have dwindled by 96 percent since the 1970s, and the insect hasn’t even been spotted in Scotland since 1884. So you can imagine the surprise lepidopterists felt when a white-letter hairstreak was seen feeding in a field in Berwickshire, Scotland earlier in August, according to The Guardian.

A man named Iain Cowe noticed the butterfly and managed to capture it on camera. “It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” Cowe said in a statement provided by the UK's Butterfly Conservation. “It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

The white-letter hairstreak is a small brown butterfly with a white “W”-shaped streak on the underside of its wings and a small orange spot on its hindwings. It’s not easily sighted, as it tends to spend most of its life feeding and breeding in treetops.

The butterfly’s preferred habitat is the elm tree, but an outbreak of Dutch elm disease—first noted the 1970s—forced the white-letter hairstreak to find new homes and food sources as millions of Britain's elm trees died. The threatened species has slowly spread north, and experts are now hopeful that Scotland could be a good home for the insect. (Dutch elm disease does exist in Scotland, but the nation also has a good amount of disease-resistant Wych elms.)

If a breeding colony is confirmed, the white-letter hairstreak will bump Scotland’s number of butterfly species that live and breed in the country up to 34. “We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said in a statement.

Prior to 1884, the only confirmed sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland was in 1859. However, the insect’s newfound presence in Scotland comes at a cost: The UK’s butterflies are moving north due to climate change, and the white-letter hairstreak’s arrival is “almost certainly due to the warming climate,” Kirkland said.

[h/t The Guardian]

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