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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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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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In the early 2000s, a team of paleontologists inadvertently set the stage for a years-long scientific saga after they excavated a well-preserved partial Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton from Montana's Hell Creek formation. While transporting the bones, the scientists were forced to break a femur. Pieces from inside the thigh bone fell out, and these fragments were sent to Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, for dissection and analysis.

Under a microscope, Schweitzer thought she could make out what appeared to be cells and tiny blood vessels inside the pieces, similar to those commonly discovered inside fresh bone. Further analysis revealed what appeared to be animal proteins, which sent Schweitzer reeling. Could she have just discovered soft tissue inside dinosaur leg bone many millions of years old, found in ancient sediments laid down during the Cretaceous period? Or was the soft stuff simply a substance known as biofilm, which would have been formed by microbes after the bone had already fossilized?

Following a seemingly endless series of debates, studies, and papers, Schweitzer's hunch was proven correct. That said, this contentious conclusion wasn't made overnight. To hear the whole saga—and learn what it means for science—watch the recent episode of Stated Clearly below, which was first spotted by website Earth Archives.

[h/t Earth Archives]

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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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