10 Things You Might Not Know About Allosaurus
Forget those sluggish tail-draggers you’ve seen plodding through old cartoons—in the real world, many dinosaurs lived fast and died young. Meet Allosaurus, a fearsome hunter with a knack for war wounds.
1. It’s the State Fossil of Utah.
Allosaurus earned this honor in 1988, just five years before a brand new dino was literally named “Utahraptor.”
2. Allosaurus Ate Like a Falcon.
A team helmed by Ohio paleontologist Eric Snivley recently proposed that—thanks to its specialized neck muscles—“Allosaurus was uniquely adapted to drive its head down into prey, hold it there, and then pull the head straight up and back with the neck and body, tearing flesh from the carcass.” Today’s birds of prey use the same approach when picking apart their victims.
3. Calvin and Hobbes Featured the Occasional Allosaurus.
Calvin (like Bill Watterson himself) loved dinosaurs and pretended to be a ravenous Allosaurus every so often, usually just before pouncing on an unsuspecting adult.
4. Allosaurus Was Ridiculously Accident-Prone…
Big Al, via Wikimedia Commons
Active lifestyles, like the one this predator led, have their drawbacks, and battered Allosaurus remains are common. For example, before it died, one Wyoming specimen (nicknamed “Big Al”) received several broken vertebrae, cracked ribs, a damaged tail, a mangled arm, and a gruesome infection on its right foot. Ouch.
Adding insult to these injuries, x-ray analyst Bruce Rothschild believes that some skeletons “show exactly the pattern of fractures that would be caused by a belly flop onto hard ground while running.” Here’s a totally scientific gif that’ll give you the basic idea.
5. … But At Least it Healed Easily.
Designed to quickly recover when damaged, Allosaurus bones were resilient, according to a detailed biochemical analysis conducted at the University of Manchester. “Using synchrotron imaging, we were able to detect astoundingly dilute traces of chemical signatures that reveal not only the difference between normal and healed bone, but also how the damaged bone healed,” said Dr. Phil Manning, senior author of the paper. “It seems dinosaurs evolved a splendid suite of defense mechanisms to help regulate the healing and repair of injuries.”
6. Allosaurus May Have Excelled at Ripping the Flesh off of Live Prey.
“Flesh-Grazer” sounds like the ring name of a second-rate wrestler, but the term’s been used to describe Allosaurus’ possible dining habits. With hooked claws and slicing teeth, some have speculated that this Jurassic marauder would have run alongside one of the gigantic herbivores that shared its habitat, ripped off a tasty chunk of its hide, and fled to a safe location before the target could retaliate.
7. Allosaurus Snapped at Each Other from Time to Time.
8. Allosaurus Was A Little Hard of Hearing.
The creature’s inner ear was built like a present-day crocodile’s, so, like modern crocs, it probably had difficulty picking up high-frequency noises [PDF].
9. It’s Part of (Arguably) the World’s Most Spectacular Dinosaur Display.
If there’s a fossil-lover’s Mecca, it’s the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Step into the Roosevelt Rotunda, and you’ll find yourself staring slack-jawed at a gripping prehistoric drama. Our players include the mounted replica of an Allosaurus skeleton charging towards a helpless young Barosaurus. Only one thing stands in this killer’s way: its would-be victim’s 80-foot mother angrily rearing up on her massive hindquarters.
10. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Once Used Fake Allosaurus Footage to Prank Harry Houdini.
The Lost World (1925) is a groundbreaking special effects extravaganza based on Doyle’s novel of the same name. Allosaurus—brought to life with cutting-edge stop motion animation—stars as the picture’s chief antagonist. Before the movie was released, an early test reel came into the Sherlock Holmes author’s possession. What followed was a truly epic prank.
Doyle, who believed in the supernatural, was close friends with Harry Houdini, who believed in debunking the supernatural. At a small gathering of magicians, Doyle rose before Houdini and their companions, claiming that he’d traveled back in time via a special psychic technique. To prove it, he then screened the footage of an impossibly-lifelike Allosaurus cavorting about with other long-extinct animals. Houdini and the assembled magicians didn't know what to make of the footage, and the “handcuff king” wouldn’t find out that he’d been duped until Doyle finally came clean in a letter the next day. "I could not resist the temptation to surprise your associates and guests. I am sure they will forgive me if for a few short hours I had them guessing," Doyle wrote. "And now, Mr. Chairman, confidence begets confidence and I want to know how you got out of that trunk."