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10 Things You Might Not Know About Parasaurolophus

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Flashy frills. Clubbed tails. Teeth the size of bananas. With strange features like these, it’s tempting to think that dinosaurs must’ve inhabited some distant, alien world. But their planet was ours. They roamed our land, they breathed our air. And, as Parasaurolophus has shown us, our skies once boomed with the chorus of their voices. Here’s a quick guide to this elegant animal. 

1. Its Tubular Crest Was Built Like a Woodwind Instrument.

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There’s more to Parasaurolophus’ most noticeable feature than meets the eye. Inside, a labyrinth of hollow chambers merge directly into its nasal passages. Suspiciously similar-looking are the musical innards of European crumhorns—a fact that hasn’t been lost on paleontologists. Seventy-five million years ago, that crest likely acted as a resonating device and enabled its owner to produce deep, long-distance bellows during outward breaths.  

2. You Can Actually Listen to a Clip of What Parasaurolophus Might Have Sounded Like.

In the 1990s, a group of American paleontologists and computer scientists teamed up to revive the beast’s ancient roar. After scanning the nooks and crannies of a large skull, they managed to simulate the eerie noises that Parasaurolophus probably sent echoing across prehistoric valleys. As an added bonus, their recording makes for one heck of a ringtone! 

3. A Close Relative of Parasaurolophus Was Named After Hades’ Ferryman.

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Greek mythology tells of a boater named Charon, who would (for a small fee) safely row the recently-deceased across to the Underworld. When a beautiful dinosaur skeleton popped up near Asia’s mighty Amur River in 2000, it was named Charonosaurus in his honor.   

4. Scientists Once Thought Parasaurolophus’ Crest Was Actually A Primitive Snorkel.

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The first rule of snorkel-making is “don’t forget to poke an air hole in the top.” Though hollow, the creature’s nifty accessory lacks any external openings, so breathing through it underwater would have been impossible. Therefore—to the surprise of no one—this hypothesis went extinct.

5. We’ve Found Traces of Parasaurolophus Skin.

Fossilized impressions left by dino hides aren’t all that common, but a patch of pebbly scale prints has been discovered in conjunction with an Albertan Parasaurolophus skeleton.   

6. A Race of Highly-Evolved Parasaurolophus Were Used as Star Trek Antagonists.

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In “Distant Origin”—a third-season episode of Star Trek: Voyager—our heroes encounter a group of humanoid aliens known as “Voths,” which descended from Parasaurolophus and fled to a far-off galaxy before the rest of earth’s dinosaurs died out.   

7. Parasaurolophus’ Voice Changed After Puberty.

Anyone above the age of 12 knows this feeling all too well. By comparing the inner ear and crest of an adult Parasaurolophus with those of a juvenile, scientists determined that younger animals were built to hear and emit higher-frequency cries. As in humans, their voices deepened with time.

8. Some of Parasaurolophus’ Cousins Had Equally-Flamboyant Headgear.

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For starters, there’s Russia’s gorgeous Olorotitan and the “hatchet-headed” Lambeosaurus lambei of western Canada.

9. The World’s Finest Parasaurolophus Skeleton Was Found by a Teenager.  

Before he’d even left for college, Kevin Terris had a major scientific discovery under his belt. On a clear day in 2009, the 17-year-old Utahan accompanied veteran paleontologist Andrew Farke on a fossil hunt. Something in the rock caught Terris’ eye—a baby Parasaurolophus skull with a skeleton attached! At present, this little dinosaur (nicknamed “Joe”) is the genus’ best-preserved specimen. “It’s a little embarrassing to walk by something like that,” said Farke, “but [Terris] was just in the right place at the right time, looking from the right angle.”  

10. Parasaurolophus has Become a Media Darling.

Smile you big, scaly thespian: The camera loves you! Having appeared in such movies as all three Jurassic Park films, the Land Before Time series, and Disney’s Dinosaur (2000), Parasaurolophus’ cinematic résumé is one that few prehistoric critters can match. It was even cast in the z-grade buddy cop comedy Theodore Rex (1995), which also featured Whoopi Goldberg fighting crime with a vegetarian Tyrannosaurus (just let that premise sink in, we’ll wait…).

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What 6 Dinosaurs from Jurassic Park Really Looked Like
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by Alex Carter

In the 24 years that have passed since the original Jurassic Park hit theaters, what we know about dinosaurs has changed—a lot. Here's some of the new research that may change how you imagine these ancient animals, along with illustrations of what the animals may have looked like when they actually roamed the Earth.

1. VELOCIRAPTOR

Movie:

Velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Velociraptor.
Matt Martyniuk, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA-3.0

A far cry from the large and vicious hunters of the Jurassic Park movies, velociraptors were in fact small and covered in feathers. More like vicious turkeys, if you will. The dinosaur in the movies was based on the Deinonychus, a much larger species whose name, appropriately, means “terrible claw.” (Even Deinonychus wasn't quite as big as the raptors portrayed in the movie.) That said, other large raptors have since been discovered, including the entire genus Utahraptor. (Its discoverers originally considered naming the type species Utahraptor spielbergi in hopes that the director would finance their research, but the name-for-funds deal never went through, so it was ultimately called Utahraptor ostrommaysorum.)

2. TYRANNOSAURUS REX

Movie:

A T. Rex in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A feathered version of a T. Rex.
A feathered version of a T. Rex.

Large. Imposing. Fluffy? Apparently, the T. rex looked much, much stranger than the beast brought to life on the silver screen. Its face might have been covered with patches of armored skin and large scales, its eyes were placed much farther forward than other dinosaurs, and it carried itself rather horizontally, not upright, as most people still imagine it. It's thought from discoveries in close relatives that T. rex was covered in some feathers for a part of its life (especially as a juvenile, as seen in The Lost World), although the details remain hotly debated. Also debated are what it used its arms for: Hypotheses have ranged from a role in reproduction to lifting itself up (which is increasingly considered unlikely) to nothing at all.

3. COMPSOGNATHUS

Movie:

A Compsognathus in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A feathered version of a Compsognathus.
A feathered version of a Compsognathus.

This dinosaur was actually bigger in real life, although not by much. The smaller version depicted in the movies was based on what is now believed to be a young (and therefore small) Compsognathus. While many dinosaurs of its type were covered in feathers, there has been a notable lack of evidence about whether compies, as they're known, had feathers or scales. Most artists tend to draw simple proto-feathers, though; the result is an animal that looks more furry than feathery—and remarkably like a stretched rat.

4. TRICERATOPS

Movie:

A Triceratops in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

These creatures are generally portrayed as leathery and pointy—a bit like a rhinoceros designed by committee. The reality is somewhat stranger: They actually resembled porcupines. Some paleontologists believe that several nipple-shaped protrusions in their skin suggest where bristles would have been. In other areas, their skin was likely scaled rather than leathery. Their horns are another mystery. A 2009 study indicated that they were used largely for combat with other Triceratops, but they probably had a role in courtship as well.

5. BRACHIOSAURUS

Movie:

A Brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Brachiosaurus.

In Jurassic Park, the Brachiosaurus is the first dinosaur seen after everyone arrives on the island, memorably rearing up to get at some particularly delicious leafage. But that behavior is now considered unlikely. The book Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs attempted to calculate if Brachiosaurs were able to rear on their hind legs and concluded, “Brachiosaurus would have expended considerably more energy [than a Diplodocus], could not have attained a stable upright pose, and would have risked serious injury to its forefeet when descending too rapidly.” Dr. Heinrich Mallison noted that it “was probably unlikely to use a bipedal … posture regularly and for an extended period of time. Although this dinosaur certainly could have reared up, for example during mating, this was probably a rare and short-lived event.”

6. SPINOSAURUS

Movie:

A Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Spinosaurus.

Joschua Knüppe, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

The Spinosaurus was discovered only a few years after the Tyrannosaurus, but it never attracted fans in quite the same way. The fossils were destroyed in World War II during an Allied bombing raid on Munich, and the dinosaur became largely forgotten. However, Jurassic Park III resurrected the dinosaur's fame with a showdown that saw the Spinosaurus kill a Tyrannosaurus. Many fans cried foul, and the size of the Spinosaurus was indeed a mistake … in reality, it was much bigger.

It would have been up to three times heavier and 20 feet longer; a creature on the higher end of that range would have been bigger than even Jurassic World's (invented) I. rex. But could Spinosaurus have taken on a T. rex and lived? Almost certainly not. While physically bigger and armed with a bigger jaw, it was much less powerful, as most paleontologists now believe Spinosaurus used its long jaws for fishing. It actually lived mostly in the water.

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Meet Spinosaurus, the Giant Dinosaur That Was Scarier Than T. Rex
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Contrary to what the film Jurassic Park may have led you to believe, Tyrannosaurus rex wasn't the largest—or scariest—dinosaur to ever roam the land. That honor goes to Spinosaurus, a genus of predators whose members could grow up to 50 feet long. They roamed North Africa during the mid-Cretaceous Period, around 100 million years ago.

Learn more about Spinosaurus—and the era's other fearsome creatures, which included carnivorous crocodiles and enormous flying reptiles—by watching the TED-Ed video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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