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10 Frilled Facts About Protoceratops

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Emily Willoughby

Scarcity attracts people. What’s common is often ignored, overshadowed by the exotic and unusual. But sometimes—as this week’s featured dinosaur demonstrates—familiar things can teach us far more than the rarest of the rare. 

1. Protoceratops  Was a Desert Dino.

Seventy million years ago (during the late Cretaceous period), much of central Asia was covered in a vast prehistoric desert inhabited by such reptilian residents as the plant-shearing Protoceratops, the bird-like Shuvuuia, and the sickle-clawed Velociraptor.

2. An Unusual Protoceratops Skeleton May Have Literally Stopped Dead in Its Tracks.  

Fossilized footprints reveal a lot about how extinct creatures behaved, but paleontologists can’t say for certain which species left which track. However, in 2011, one very special footprint was found directly underneath a Protoceratops skeleton, and it’s entirely possible that the two specimens are directly connected.

3. A Nest Full of Adorable Protoceratops Toddlers Has Turned Up.

Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez

In November 2011, scientists announced the discovery of a nest containing 15 youngsters. Cooler still is the fact that the wee beasties weren’t newborn hatchlings: They seem to have been growing up a bit before striking out on their own, probably with a little help from their folks. “These animals definitely grew at the nest,” says the University of Rhode Island’s Dr. David Fastovsky, “…the implication is there [was] some kind of parental care involved.” 

4. Protoceratops Was So Common That It’s Been Dubbed “The Sheep of the Cretaceous.”

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The Gobi Desert has yielded hundreds of specimens over the past century, making Protoceratops an unusually well-represented dinosaur. And while we’re on the subject of livestock references, paleontologist Anthony J. Martin once called Protoceratops “Mesozoic Mutton.”

5. It’s Been Argued that Protoceratops Was Built for Tunneling. 

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This might explain the superabundance of Protoceratops bones. After all, a dead animal resting in an underground burrow is much less likely to get picked apart by scavengers or demolished by the elements than an exposed corpse on the surface. So, what’s the evidence? Paleontologist Nicholas Longrich notes that these dinos are often found buried in a strange “upright” position, indicating that they might’ve been standing in cavernous tunnels when they died. 

6. One Protoceratops Species was Named in Honor of a Real-Life Indiana Jones.

Karen

Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960) was an explorer who carried a bullwhip, wore a broad-brimmed hat, regularly cheated death, and traveled the world searching for age-old treasures. Heck, the man even hated snakes! Protoceratops andrewsi—a dino discovered on an expedition he spearheaded—was named after him in 1923. 

7. In 1971, a Protoceratops and a Velociraptor Were Found Locked in Combat.

Yuya Tamai

A carnivorous Velociraptor sinks one of its curved toe claws into your neck. What do you do? Well, if you’re a Protoceratops, try chomping down on its arm. The beaked herbivore had some powerful jaws built to slice through sturdy vegetation. As this incredible discovery—unearthed by a Polish-Mongolian crew—demonstrates, they could also help it take a bite out of predators.

How did such an astonishing duel get frozen in time to begin with? One hypothesis claims that the fighters were slugging it out at the base of a waterlogged dune when a sudden mudslide instantly smothered them in fossil-friendly sediment. 

8. Protoceratops “Eye Rings” Have Been Uncovered.

The “sclerotic ring” is a bony circle found within the eyeballs of many vertebrates (including numerous dinosaurs), which helps these sight organs retain their shape. 

9. Protoceratops Noggins Were Fairly Diverse.

Thanks to a wealth of material, scientists have found that some Protoceratops have broader frills and steeper arches above the nose than their neighbors. Do these groups represent the two different sexes? Two different sub-species? Nobody knows.    

10. There’s a Decent Chance that the Griffins of Ancient Folklore were Inspired by Protoceratops.

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In The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, historian Adrienne Mayor suggests that the mythical griffin—rumored to stalk the Gobi—was born when ancient travelers stumbled across Protoceratops remains. Like the legendary monster, she observes, this local dinosaur had four strong legs and a bird-like beak. 

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Meet the Largest Dinosaur Ever Discovered

Argentinosaurus and Dreadnoughtus have got nothing on the Patagotitan mayorum. This newly named species of titanosaur is being called the world's largest dinosaur (and animal) to ever walk on land.

The long-necked herbivore, which weighed an estimated 69 tons—the equivalent of 12 African elephants—and measured 120 feet long, was discovered by an Argentinian rancher back in 2014. It made waves again last year when a model of its skeleton was added to the American Museum of Natural History, alongside its original fossilized femur.

Now, with a newly minted scientific name, the Patagotitan mayorum is on full display in National Geographic's recent video. You can take a gander at this stunningly complete specimen below:

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Dinosaurs Were Plagued By Parasites (Their Fossilized Dino Poop Tells Us So)
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Even mighty prehistoric giants like Tyrannosaurus rex were plagued with parasites, according to Gross Science host Anna Rothschild. In the video below, Rothschild explains how scientists have discovered evidence of several types of creepy critters inside fossilized dinosaur poop, including flatworm and roundworm eggs, and cysts resembling those of present-day amoebas.

Ancient parasites might have afflicted more than just the dinosaurs’ guts, too: For example, scientists have found a biting fly with a malaria-like parasite inside its intestines, preserved in 100 million-year-old amber. This fly may have once fed on dinosaurs, meaning dinos may have suffered from the same infectious disease as humans. Meanwhile, another variety of parasite may have caused T. rex to develop flesh-eating ulcers in their mouths and esophaguses. Some researchers even believe that dinosaurs could have had giant tapeworms snaking their way through their intestines.

As scientists continue to dig up dino poop, they may discover even more pesky organisms inside the prehistoric dung. In the meantime, take consolation in the fact that even the fiercest creatures that likely ever walked the planet weren't above the tiniest indignities of nature.

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