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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.

Thinkstock

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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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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In the early 2000s, a team of paleontologists inadvertently set the stage for a years-long scientific saga after they excavated a well-preserved partial Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton from Montana's Hell Creek formation. While transporting the bones, the scientists were forced to break a femur. Pieces from inside the thigh bone fell out, and these fragments were sent to Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, for dissection and analysis.

Under a microscope, Schweitzer thought she could make out what appeared to be cells and tiny blood vessels inside the pieces, similar to those commonly discovered inside fresh bone. Further analysis revealed what appeared to be animal proteins, which sent Schweitzer reeling. Could she have just discovered soft tissue inside dinosaur leg bone many millions of years old, found in ancient sediments laid down during the Cretaceous period? Or was the soft stuff simply a substance known as biofilm, which would have been formed by microbes after the bone had already fossilized?

Following a seemingly endless series of debates, studies, and papers, Schweitzer's hunch was proven correct. That said, this contentious conclusion wasn't made overnight. To hear the whole saga—and learn what it means for science—watch the recent episode of Stated Clearly below, which was first spotted by website Earth Archives.

[h/t Earth Archives]

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Fossilized Poop Shows Some Herbivorous Dinosaurs Loved a Good Crab Dinner
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Lead author Karen Chin of the University of Colorado Boulder
Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder

Scientists can learn a lot about the prehistoric world through very, very old poop. Just recently, researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder and Kent State University studying fossilized dinosaur poop discovered that some herbivores weren't as picky about their diets as we thought. Though they mostly ate plants, large dinosaurs living in Utah 75 million years ago also seem to have eaten prehistoric crustaceans, as Nature News reports.

The new study, published in Scientific Reports, finds that large dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous period seem to have eaten crabs, along with rotting wood, based on the content of their coprolites (the more scientific term for prehistoric No. 2). The fossilized remains of dinos' bathroom activities were found in the Kaiparowits rock formation in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a known hotspot for pristine Late Cretaceous fossils.

"The large size and woody contents" of the poop suggest that they were created by dinosaurs that were well-equipped to process fiber in their diets, as the study puts it, leading the researchers to suggest that the poop came from big herbivores like hadrosaurs, whose remains have been found in the area before.

Close up scientific images of evidence of crustaceans in fossilized poop.
Chin et al., Scientific Reports (2017)

While scientists previously thought that plant-eating dinosaurs like hadrosaurs only ate vegetation, these findings suggest otherwise. "The diet represented by the Kaiparowits coprolites would have provided a woody stew of plant, fungal, and invertebrate tissues," the researchers write, including crabs (Yum). These crustaceans would have provided a big source of calcium for the dinosaurs, and the other invertebrates that no doubt lived in the rotting logs would have provided a good source of protein.

But they probably didn't eat the rotting wood all year, instead munching on dead trees seasonally or during times when other food sources weren’t available. Another hypothesis is that these "ancient fecal producers," as the researchers call them, might have eaten the rotting wood, with its calcium-rich crustaceans and protein-laden invertebrates, during egg production, similar to the feeding patterns of modern birds during breeding season.

Regardless of the reason, these findings could change how we think about what big dinosaurs ate.

[h/t Nature News]

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