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10 Things You Might Not Know About Diplodocus

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Diplodocus ranks among the most impressive animals that’s ever walked the earth and, thanks to a great philanthropist, it’s also become one of the world’s favorite dinosaurs. So, let’s get a little better acquainted with this captivating creature.

1. Andrew Carnegie Was a Big Diplodocus Fan.

A steel industry giant who loved his dinos, Carnegie financed several fossil-finding expeditions, one of which yielded a gigantic Diplodocus specimen in 1899. As an act of goodwill, he donated meticulously-crafted casts of the skeleton (nicknamed “Dippy”) to museums in such cities as Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Moscow, and London.

2. Young Diplodocus Were Finicky Eaters.

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Like many human kids, adolescent Diplodocus were a bit picky. Because they had much narrower snouts than adults did, juveniles proportionally grabbed less food with each bite. It’s been suggested that this is because they exclusively ate higher-quality plants while growing up.

3. A Faction of Paleontologists Once Thought that Diplodocus Sprawled Like a Lizard.

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We now know that Diplodocus held those column-like legs directly underneath its body. Back in 1910, however, some scientists claimed that these limbs actually jetted out to the side. Enter William Jacob Holland (1848-1932), a zoologist and minister with a knack for cheesy one-liners. As Holland pointed out, this king-sized dinosaur had a deep, protruding rib cage. Ergo, if Diplodocus sprawled, its dragging belly would’ve carved a huge trench—or “rut”—through the soil every time it went for a stroll. Dripping with sarcasm, he added “This might perhaps account for his early extinction. It is physically and mentally bad to ‘get into a rut.’”

4. One Particularly Huge Diplodocus Species Was Over 100 Feet Long.

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Conservative estimates hold that Diplodocus hallorum—previously known as Seismosaurus halli stretched a remarkable 110 feet from end to end. So, does this make it the longest dinosaur ever? No. Patagonia’s Argentinosaurus, India’s Bruhathkayosaurus, and Colorado’s Supersaurus appear to have been comparable in length. And then there’s the mysterious Amphicoelias, which quite possibly dwarfed them all. But because all five are only known from annoyingly-incomplete specimens, paleontologists can merely speculate about which one (if any) deserves that crown.

5. It Had Plenty of Long-Necked Neighbors.

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Unless you’re living in a Land Before Time movie, “sauropod” is the proper term for “long-necked” herbivorous dinosaurs. One hundred and fifty million years ago, Diplodocus lived alongside several other members of this group in the wilds of North America, including Camarasaurus, Brachiosaurus, and even Apatosaurus, the dino formerly known as Brontosaurus.

6. Some Believe Diplodocus’ Whip-Like Tail Could’ve Broken the Sound Barrier.

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These herbivores might have used their sinuous tails to produce an intimidating thwacking noise in the event of a predator attack. Hopefully, that’d be frightening enough; being forced to actually make contact with the opponent’s skin likely meant breaking several of its own vertebrae.

7. Diplodocus Didn’t Chew—It Gulped.

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When you’ve got a 12-ton body to feed, chewing is a time-waster you can’t afford. According to a 2012 skull analysis, Diplodocus’ jaws were designed to remove leaves from branches by stripping and/or plucking them off. Whatever Diplodocus consumed was mostly swallowed whole before getting broken down during digestion. 

8. Scientists Aren’t Sure if Diplodocus Held its Head High.

Would sauropods like Diplodocus have preferred holding their necks horizontally (as seen above) or raising them upwards? A case can be made for both interpretations. On the one hand, if such a large neck was kept parallel to the ground, blood might’ve flowed more easily to the dino’s brain. Yet, on the other hand, this could prevent Diplodocus from browsing on tree limbs, cutting off a potentially important food source. Also, living animals almost universally incline their necks upwards to some degree.

9. Diplodocus Replaced its Teeth With Incredible Speed.

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Like today’s sharks, this animal and its kin constantly replaced their own teeth and “would’ve had a fresh tooth in each position every one to two months, sometimes less,” says Dr. Michael D’Emic of Stony Brook University. “Effectively, sauropods took a ‘quantity over quality’ approach” to their dental arsenals.

10. Teddy Roosevelt Wrote That If Diplodocus Were Still Alive, He’d Enjoy Shooting One.

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When you’re hunting dinosaurs, carrying a big stick doesn’t cut it. In 1905, Carnegie and Holland visited the U.K. to show off one of their Diplodocus casts, to the delight of British cartoonists. After they returned home, the Bull Moose himself wrote an enthusiastic letter of congratulations: “What a bully time you must have had in London! The delight which the political caricaturists made of your Diplodocus was most amusing. What a pity the thing died out! What glorious shooting we would have had on the Little Missouri if it survived to our time!” 

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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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