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10 Facts About Ankylosaurus

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Whenever Ankylosaurus is mentioned—in basic cable documentaries, cheap time-travel novels, or elsewhere—you might as well just start counting the seconds until somebody inevitably compares it to a tank. Equipped with defensive plating and a formidable tail club, this dino was certainly built like one. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look … from a safe distance, of course!

1. It Was Named by A Future Military Operative (and Fur Coat Enthusiast).

Meaning “fused lizard,” the word “Ankylosaurus” was coined in 1908 by paleontologist Barnum Brown (1873-1963). Brown himself was named after bombastic showman P.T. Barnum and, like the great magician, had a knack for exuberance. Mindful of his wardrobe, he could often be seen wearing a dapper top hat and knee-length beaverskin coat, even while digging up fossils miles away from civilization. Years later, Brown gathered intelligence for the American armed forces during World War II. His second wife, Lillian, went on to write a wildly entertaining memoir titled I Married a Dinosaur about their exploits.

2. Ankylosaurus Was Covered in Thick, Protective Knobs.

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Like a modern alligator, Ankylosaurus’ back was littered with bony plates which would’ve been all but bite-proof to even the toughest of carnivores. These structures (scientifically known as “osteoderms”) also decorated much of the animal’s sides, tail, and skull, though—like most ankylosaurs—its naked belly seems to have lacked this line of protection entirely.

3. It Belonged to a Diverse Group of Heavily-Armored Dinos.

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The ankylosauria was an incredibly successful lineage whose members once populated every continent except Africa. Many, like the majestic Sauropelta, had imposing shoulder spikes; a very special English species dubbed Hylaeosaurus was one of the first dinosaurs ever discovered.

4. Its Tongue Was (Theoretically) Quite Muscular.

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If you take a finger and gently press the area above your Adam’s apple, you may feel a solid lump. This is a u-shaped object called the “hyoid bone,” which helps anchor the tongue. These are usually very large in Ankylosaurus’ relatives, suggesting that hefty, flexible tongues inhabited their maws.

5. Ankylosaurus’ Clubbed Tail May Have Shattered Tyrannosaur Bones.

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T. rex shared its habitat with Ankylosaurus, but this giant herbivore wielded a weapon which might have made the “tyrant lizard king” take a few steps back. Interlocking vertebrae encased in worryingly-large osteoderms combined to form an almost tire-sized “club.” In large specimens with well-endowed tails, it’s been estimated that these instruments could “generate sufficient force to break bone during impacts” (however, smaller ankylosaurs likely couldn’t do so).

6. Some of its Relatives Even Had Armored Eyelids.

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Euoplocephalus tutus had specialized osteoderms covering its eyelids, shielding those precious pupils from marauding predators and/or the Three Stooges.

7. Ankylosaurus has been Confusing Artists for Decades.

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At the end of the day, those plates are darn hard to draw. The fact that scientists have spent over half a century re-imagining how they were arranged doesn’t help. Today, well-intentioned artists frequently err by putting a row of conical spikes along Ankylosaurus’ sides. Additionally, that aforementioned club was relatively flat, yet many have given it the shape of a spherical meatball over the years.

8. Ankylosaurus Had Tiny Teeth.

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Despite being the biggest-known ankylosaurid, this creature’s chompers were fairly miniscule. In fact, Ankylosaurus had the smallest teeth relative to its body size of any known member of its family.

Speaking of Ankylosaurus’ pearly whites, what was on the menu? The creature’s muzzle was rather wide and featured a strong beak, suggesting that it fed indiscriminately on low-lying vegetation.

9. Ankylosaurus Made a Big Splash at the 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Sinclair Oil, famous for their green Apatosaurus logo, decided to create a pack of life-sized dinosaur statues as a prehistoric publicity stunt for the event. Since then, this gang (which also included Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus) has been scattered across the country, with the original Ankylosaurus eventually settling down at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

10. Ankylosaurus Also Inspired one of Godzilla’s Most Beloved Co-Stars.

Despite having a long snout, hedgehog-like spines, and sharp fangs, the monster called Anguirus was loosely based on Ankylosaurus. First appearing in 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, this pugnacious beast went on to star in half a dozen other films opposite the Big G, becoming a fan favorite en route.

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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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