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10 Facts About Leaellynasaura

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Leaellynasaura may seem like an unassuming little creature, but it tells a remarkable story—one that involves drifting continents, a snowy wonderland, and the world’s luckiest little girl. Here’s a quick crash course on this dino from Down Under.

1. Leaellynasaura Was a Polar Dinosaur.

To hear some B-movies tell it, the Earth of yesteryear was a uniform, Star Wars-esque planet completely over-run by tropical swamps. In Hollywood’s defense, global temperatures were indeed much warmer during the dinosaurs’ heyday. However, 110 million years ago, Leaellynasaura roamed Australia’s southern tip—a region then trapped inside the Antarctic Circle. Frozen ground and prolonged seasons of near-total darkness were among the special challenges it had to face.

2. Leaellynasaura’s Tail was Freakishly Long.   

El fosilmaníaco

In fact, the dino’s tail contained over 70 vertebrae and—according to some recent estimates—made up a stunning 75 percent of its total body length! So, what purpose did the thing serve? Scientists aren’t sure, but some argue that if the appendage was covered in bright downy feathers, it could’ve been used for sexual display. 

3. It’s One of Australia’s Most Famous Dinosaurs.

Despite boasting legions of fantastically-weird animals today, precious few dino bones have turned up on the continent: less than two dozen Aussie species are known. Among these, Leaellynasaura is a bona fide celebrity thanks to its marquee role in BBCs Walking with Dinosaurs series.

4. It Had Huge, Penetrating Eyes.

Leaellynasaura was blessed with a pair of unusually big eyeballs, which—apart from making it look downright adorable—helped this nimble herbivore peer through the wintery polar gloom. The dino’s brain cavity includes enlarged optic lobes, indicating that it was designed to process complex images in low-light conditions.  

5. It’s Part of a Wonderful “Dinosaur Petting Zoo.”

Created by Erth, an Australian theatrical company, the “Dinosaur Petting Zoo” is a live theatrical experience featuring oversized dinosaur puppets manipulated onstage by their human “handlers.” Kids are invited to walk up and touch them as a friendly zookeeper talks about each animal’s natural history. The bug-eyed Leaellynasaura is a particular fan favorite.  

6. Unlike Today’s Polar Animals, Leaellynasaura Probably Didn’t Hibernate.

Instead of going dormant during harsher seasons, a 2011 investigation argues that Leaellynasaura and other cold-weather dinosaurs likely remained active year-round. Previously, some thought that—because the thickness of the “growth rings” in its bones dramatically fluctuates—Leaellynasaura’s metabolism annually slowed down as winter arrived, putting the creature in a state of bear-like hibernation. This argument was derailed when an international research team discovered very similar patterns in several tropical and temperate-zone dinos, which would’ve had no reason to hibernate. It’s still possible that Leaellynasaura slept through the roughest months of each year, but we no longer have any persuasive evidence to support this notion.

7. Leaellynasaura Was Found in a Place Named “Dinosaur Cove.”

Anthony Martin

What are the odds, right? Nestled on the outskirts of Melbourne, “Dinosaur Cove” is a rich fossil bed named in 1980 to honor the site’s numerous reptilian remains. Other species found there include a speedy plant-eater called Atlascopcosaurus and an unnamed Allosaurus relative.

8. Leaellynasaura Might Have Been a Burrower.

After three fossilized burrows were found in Dinosaur Cove during the late 2000s, paleontologist Tony Martin speculated that Leaellynasaura may have dug them, perhaps in an effort to shield itself from the frigid climate. Believe it or not, subterranean dinos have turned up before: In 2007, three partial skeletons belonging to one of Leaellynasaura’s distant cousins were found huddled together inside a cavernous den the creatures had presumably made.  

9. Leaellynasaura Was Discovered by a Dino-Loving Couple ...

Fossils can really bring people together. Patricia and Thomas Rich are a pair of Australian paleontologists who’ve unearthed several all-new dinosaurs, including Leaellynasaura, which they scientifically described in 1989. 

10. … Who Named it After Their Daughter.  

“When I was two,” reminisced a young Leaellyn Rich in an open letter to Ranger Rick magazine, “I had a book called My Little Dinosaur. It was about a boy who found a live dinosaur in a cave near his house. I started wanting a dinosaur too. My dad worked with dinosaurs in a museum … so I asked him to get me one.” It was a dream her parents never forgot. Years later, the Riches decided to call their newly discovered species “Leaellynasaura” in her honor. “[You] can just imagine,” the excited girl wrote, “how I felt when I first saw the fossils of my very own dinosaur. Thanks, Mum and Dad!”

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New LEGO Set Recreates Jurassic Park's Iconic Velociraptor Chase Scenes
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LEGO

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, is skulking into theaters on June 22. That makes now the perfect time to revisit the original film in LEGO form.

This LEGO set, spotted by Nerdist, depicts some of the most suspenseful scenes from the 1993 movie. There's the main computer room where Ariana Richards's Lex shows off her hacker skills while Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) struggle to keep a hungry dinosaur from barging in. Just like in the film, the door features a deadbolt lock that's velociraptor-proof (though, unfortunately for the characters, the detachable window is not). Other Easter eggs hidden in this part include a map of Isla Nublar and a screener saver of LEGO Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight).

In the neighboring room, you'll find the cold storage unit where the dinosaur embryos are kept, along with the fake shaving cream can Nedry uses to steal them. The final section is the kitchen, where Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex are stalked by the velociraptor. There's less room for them to hide in the LEGO version compared to the movie set, but there is at least one functioning cabinet for Lex to tuck herself into. Closer inspection reveals even more details from the film, like the lime-green Jello Lex is eating when the raptors first arrive and the step ladder the gang uses to escape into the air ducts during the final chase.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

The Jurassic Park Velociraptor Chase set is currently available from the LEGO shop for $40.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of LEGO.

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CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
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Why Are There No More Dinosaurs?
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Actually, there are still dinosaurs: Birds! But let’s talk about that a little later. Scientists have found clues in rocks and fossils that tell us that by 65 million years ago, the climate (CLY-met), or usual weather, of the Earth had changed a lot, becoming cooler and drier. That was hard on the heat-loving dinosaurs. But that’s not why almost all of the dinosaurs became extinct, or disappeared forever. Scientists think a terrible event occurred that killed them off.

In 1991, scientists discovered a huge 110-mile-long crater, or hole, in the Gulf of Mexico. They think this crater was made by a giant, fiery, 6-mile-wide asteroid (AST-er-oyd) from space that smashed into the Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact was more powerful than any bomb we have ever known. Scientists believe this event killed most plant and animal life—including the dinosaurs. The asteroid probably caused shockwaves, earthquakes, fireballs, wildfires, and tidal, or really big, waves. It also sent huge amounts of dust and gas into the atmosphere, which is like a big blanket of air that surrounds the Earth. That was really bad for the planet.

The dust blocked sunlight, making the planet very cold and dark. Then, over time, the gases trapped heat, causing the Earth to get even hotter than it was before the asteroid hit. This change was deadly for most dinosaurs, and they became extinct. But birds survived. Many millions of years earlier, they had evolved (ee-VOL-ved), or changed slowly over time, from one group of dinosaurs. And when the dinosaurs disappeared, mammals diversified (die-VERSE-uh-fide), or changed, into many different kinds of animals—including us, many millions of years later. So the next time you see a bird swoop by, wave hello to the little flying dinosaur!    


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