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10 Things You Might Not Know About Plateosaurus

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The word “dinosaur” wasn’t invented until 1842, but people have been stumbling across their bones for centuries, and possibly even millennia! It’s fitting, then, that Plateosaurus—one of the planet’s earliest dinos—was also among the first to be discovered by modern science. Let’s take a closer look!

1. Plateosaurus Has A Pretty Awesome Nickname.

So many Plateosaurus remains have emerged in Germany’s Swabia region that it’s been unofficially called “the Swabian Lindworm,” after a type of serpentine dragon. (Alas, however, the reptile probably didn’t breathe fire—sorry, fantasy fans.)  

2. A Full-Size, Animatronic Plateosaurus Was Built For the Walking With Dinosaurs Live Theatrical Show. 

This impressive contraption is over 20 feet long and gives one heck of a performance!

3. Plateosaurus Could Take Some Deep Breaths.

With flexible ribs arranged in a large, barrel-shaped cage, Plateosaurus had plenty of room for some supersized lungs [PDF]. This certainly would have been useful, since Earth’s atmosphere contained significantly less oxygen when the dino roamed modern-day Europe during the late Triassic period around 214 million years ago.

4. It Didn’t Like Crawling on All Fours.

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Holy galloping Plateosaurus, Batman! The primitive herbivore has often been drawn lumbering about in a horse-like trot on its hands and feet. But a closer examination in 2007 revealed that Plateosaurus’ forearms were locked in a “clapping” position—with the palms facing each other—and couldn’t rotate downward. Because of this, Plateosaurus’ palms weren’t capable of pushing off against the ground, so walking with them was out of the question. Instead, Plateosaurus looks built for bipedal (two-legged) locomotion. 

5. Over 100 Plateosaurus Skeletons Have Been Found.

Most dinosaurs are known from a handful of incomplete remains, but Plateosaurus has been kind to paleontology buffs. Not only have several dozen adult skeletons been found, but a small army of juveniles have turned up as well! 

6. Plateosaurus Had a Strange Cameo in Disney’s Fantasia (1940).

Disney via Dinosaur Wikia

Accompanied by a segment from Igor Stravinski’s The Rite of Spring ballet, the history of life on earth unfolds during one of Fantasia’s most unforgettable scenes. Eventually, the camera pans to a herd of Plateosaurus digging for clams (despite the fact that the dinosaur really ate vegetation).

7. It Had a Thick, Muscular Tail.

Wikimedia Commons

Perception isn’t always reality. Because most dinosaur illustrations show them standing at profile, it’s easy to forget what they looked like three-dimensionally—so many assume that dino tails were thin and downright wavy. But, as Heinrich Mallison (a paleontologist currently working at Tübingen University) has pointed out, Plateosaurus had some generous hindquarters and a stiff, heavyweight tail which would’ve counterbalanced its beefy torso.

8. Some Plateosaurus Adults Suffered From Stunted Growth.

Fully-grown individuals ranged from 4.5 to 10 meters (14.8 to 32.8 feet) in length, meaning that some unlucky specimens stopped growing when they’d reached less than half the size of their larger siblings and neighbors. In other words, they were dwarves.

9. There’s A “Plateosaurus Graveyard” in Germany.

Wikimedia Commons

Sprechen sie Deutsch?” As mentioned earlier, Germany is Plateosaurus country. In fact, it was a German paleontologist by the name of Hermann von Meyer who originally named the beast in 1837. Furthermore, consider this: a rocky outcrop sitting just outside the town of Trossingen has—to date—yielded the remains of 55 skeletons. Why did so many dinosaurs kick the bucket there?  Many have suggested that they starved to death after being trapped in its muddy soil. 

10. Plateosaurus Gave Norway its Very First Dinosaur Fossil.

By 2006, it looked like this Scandinavian nation might never yield a dinosaur; nobody had ever found so much as a fragment of one up there. That all changed when a team of geologists struck a mysterious fossil while drilling for oil off its northern coast. It turned out to be a Plateosaurus knucklebone, which finally proved that dinosaurs did indeed roam present-day Norway.  

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Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows
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Ticks plagued the dinosaurs, too, as evidenced by a 99-million-year old parasite preserved inside a hunk of ancient amber. Entomologists who examined the Cretaceous period fossil noticed that the tiny arachnid was latched to a dinosaur feather—the first evidence that the bloodsuckers dined on dinos, according to The New York Times. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ticks are one of the most common blood-feeding parasites. But experts didn’t know what they ate in prehistoric times, as parasites and their hosts are rarely found together in the fossil record. Scientists assumed they chowed down on early amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, according to NPR. They didn’t have hard evidence until study co-author David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of History, and his colleagues spotted the tick while perusing a private collection of Myanmar amber.

A 99-million-year-old tick encased in amber, grasping a dinosaur feather.
Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick entangled in a feather. a Photograph of the Burmese amber piece (Bu JZC-F18) showing a semicomplete pennaceous feather. Scale bar, 5 mm. b Detail of the nymphal tick in dorsal view and barbs (inset in a). Scale bar, 1 mm. c Detail of the tick’s capitulum (mouthparts), showing palpi and hypostome with teeth (arrow). Scale bar, 0.1 mm. d Detail of a barb. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. e Drawing of the tick in dorsal view indicating the point of entanglement. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. f Detached barbule pennulum showing hooklets on one of its sides (arrow in a indicates its location but in the opposite side of the amber piece). Scale bar, 0.2 mm
Peñalver et al., Nature Communications

The tick is a nymph, meaning it was in the second stage of its short three-stage life cycle when it died. The dinosaur it fed on was a “nanoraptor,” or a tiny dino that was roughly the size of a hummingbird, Grimaldi told The Times. These creatures lived in tree nests, and sometimes met a sticky end after tumbling from their perches into hunks of gooey resin. But just because the nanoraptor lived in a nest didn’t mean it was a bird: Molecular dating pinpointed the specimen as being at least 25 million years older than modern-day avians.

In addition to ticks, dinosaurs likely also had to deal with another nest pest: skin beetles. Grimaldi’s team located several additional preserved ticks, and two were covered in the insect’s fine hairs. Skin beetles—which are still around today—are scavengers that live in aerial bird homes and consume molted feathers.

“These findings shed light on early tick evolution and ecology, and provide insights into the parasitic relationship between ticks and ancient relatives of birds, which persists today for modern birds,” researchers concluded in a news release.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Clever Adaptations That Helped Some Animals Become Gigantic
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Imagine a world in which eagle-sized dragonflies buzzed through the air and millipedes as long as kayaks scuttled across Earth. "Ick"-factor aside for bug haters, these creatures aren't the product of a Michael Crichton fever dream. In fact, they actually existed around 300 million years ago, as MinuteEarth host Kate Yoshida explains.

How did the prehistoric ancestors of today’s itty-bitty insects get so huge? Oxygen, and lots of it. Bugs "breathe by sponging up air through their exoskeletons, and the available oxygen can only diffuse so far before getting used up," Yoshida explains. And when an atmospheric spike in the colorless gas occurred, this allowed the critters' bodies to expand to unprecedented dimensions and weights.

But that's just one of the clever adaptations that allowed some creatures to grow enormous. Learn more about these adaptations—including the ingenious evolutionary development that helped the biggest dinosaurs to haul their cumbersome bodies around, and the pair of features that boosted blue whales to triple their size, becoming the largest animals ever on Earth—by watching MinuteEarth's video below.

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