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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.

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

2. Allosaurus Ate Like a Falcon.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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