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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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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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