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10 Things You Might Not Know About Allosaurus

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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.

Wikimedia Commons

Allosaurus earned this honor in 1988, just five years before a brand new dino was literally named “Utahraptor.”

2. Allosaurus Ate Like a Falcon.

Wikimedia Commons

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.

via

5. … But At Least it Healed Easily.

Wikimedia Commons

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.

Wikimedia Commons

As if living with the spike-tailed Stegosaurus wasn’t dangerous enough, many Allosaurus skulls have been found with deep bite wounds left by other members of their own species [PDF].

8. Allosaurus Was A Little Hard of Hearing.

Wikimedia Commons

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.

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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."

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Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder
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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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AMNH // R. Mickens
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What It’s Like to Write an Opera About Dinosaurs
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AMNH // R. Mickens

There are many challenges that face those writing the lyrics to operas, but figuring out what can rhyme with dinosaur names isn’t often one of them. But wrangling multisyllabic, Latin- and Greek-derived names of prehistoric creatures into verse was an integral part of Eric Einhorn’s job as the librettist behind Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, a new, family-friendly opera currently running at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Created by On Site Opera, which puts on operas in unusual places (like Madame Tussauds Wax Museum) across New York City, in conjunction with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Pittsburgh Opera, Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt follows the true story of Rhoda Knight and her grandfather, the famous paleoartist Charles R. Knight.

Knight worked as a freelance artist for the American Museum of Natural History from 1896 until his death in 1953, creating images of extinct species that paved the way for how we imagine dinosaurs even now. He studied with taxidermists and paleontology experts and was one of the first to paint dinosaurs as flesh-and-blood creatures in natural habitats rather than fantastical monsters, studying their bones and creating sculptural models to make his renderings as accurate as contemporary science made possible.

In the 20-minute opera, singers move around the museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, performing among skeletons and even some paintings by Knight himself. Einhorn, who also serves as the director of On Site Opera and stage director for the opera, wrote the libretto based on stories about the real-life Rhoda—who now goes by Rhoda Knight Kalt—whom he met with frequently during the development process.

Soprano Jennifer Zetland (Rhoda) sings in front of a dinosaur skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History.
AMNH // R. Mickens

“I spent a lot of time with Rhoda just talking about her childhood,” he tells Mental Floss, gathering anecdotes that could be worked into the opera. “She tells this great story of being in the museum when they were unpacking the wooly mammoth,” he says. "And she was just there, because her grandfather was there. It's being at the foot of greatness and not even realizing it until later.”

But there was one aspect of Rhoda’s childhood that proved to be a challenge in terms of turning her story into a performance. “Unfortunately, she was a really well-behaved kid,” Einhorn says. “And that doesn't really make for a good opera.”

Knight Kalt, who attended the opera’s dress rehearsal, explains that she knew at the time that if she misbehaved, she wouldn’t be allowed back. “I knew that the only way I could be with my grandfather was if I was very quiet,” she says. “Sometimes he would stand for an hour and a half discussing a fossil bone and how he could bring that alive … if I had interrupted then I couldn't meet him [at the museum anymore].”

In the fictionalized version of Knight Kalt's childhood (which takes place when Rhoda is 8), Rhoda looks around the museum for the missing bones of the dinosaur Deinocheirus so that her grandfather can draw them. The Late Cretaceous dino, first discovered in 1965, almost didn't make it into the show, though. In the first draft of the libretto, the dinosaur Rhoda is searching for in the museum was a relatively new dinosaur species found in China and first unveiled in 2015—Zhenyuanlong suni—but the five-syllable name proved impossible to rhyme or sing.

Rhoda Knight Kalt stands next to the head of a dinosaur.
Rhoda Knight Kalt
Shaunacy Ferro

But Einhorn wanted to feature a real dinosaur discovery in the opera. A paleontologist at the museum, Carl Mehling, suggested Deinocheirus. “There are two arms hanging right over there,” Einhorn says, gesturing across the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, “and until [recently] the arms were the only things that had ever been discovered about Deinocheirus.” Tying the opera back to an actual specimen in the museum—one only a few feet away from where the opera would be staged—opened up a whole new set of possibilities, both lyrically and otherwise. “Once we ironed that out, we knew we had good science and better rhyming words.”

As for Knight Kalt, she says the experience of watching her childhood unfold in operatic form was a little weird. “The whole story makes me laugh,” she says. But it was also a perfectly appropriate way to honor her grandfather. “He used to sing while he was painting,” she says. “He loved the opera.”

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt will be performed at the American Museum of Natural History on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until October 15. Performances are free with museum admission, but require a reservation. The opera will later travel to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Pittsburgh Opera.

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