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10 Spiky Facts About Stegosaurus

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Poor Stegosaurus. Thanks its relative brain size, the Jurassic herbivore—while popular—has been slapped with prehistoric punchlines for over a century. Today, we’re saluting one of earth’s most misunderstood dinosaurs.

1. Stegosaurus’ Name is a Giant Anachronism.

Meaning “roof lizard,” it references the outdated idea that Stegosaurus’ characteristic back plates were arranged horizontally like enormous shingles. We now know these weird-looking bones stood upright, though what they were actually used for remains an open question.

2. No, Stegosaurus Didn’t Have a Second Brain Above its Butt. That Myth Needs to Go Extinct.

To be fair, the spinal columns of certain dinos—such as Stegosaurus—do have sizable cavities around their fannies. During the late 1800s, some briefly speculated that a ‘posterior braincase’ was housed there; after all, since Stegosaurus’ cranium wasn’t exactly plus-sized, backup grey matter seemed like a helpful feature.

Amusing as that notion is, there isn’t a shred of decent evidence to support it (for instance, no modern animals have one). Sadly, however, this two-brained dinosaur rumor persists.

3. Stegosaurus Did, However, Boast Pebbly Throat Armor.

Nobu Tamura

Circular lumps arranged on the neck’s underside would’ve assisted Stegosaurus in shielding its jugular from hungry predators.

4. It’s Also the State Fossil of Colorado.

Despite this, the Colorado Rockies’ current mascot is a purple Triceratops named "Dinger." At least with Stegosaurus, they could’ve thrown in some cheesy home "plate" puns. What a missed opportunity…

5. An Unlucky Allosaurus (Probably) Met the Business End of One.

Wikimedia Commons

Wanna hear something scary? A noticeable percentage of known Stegosaurus tail spikes have broken and re-healed tips, indicating that, in life, their owners put them to good use. Furthermore, one famous Allosaurus vertebrae includes an unusual hole which was apparently made when the carnivore tangled with a feisty Stegosaurus and its well-armed hind end.

6. Stegosaurus Would’ve Had an Interesting Gait.

Because its front legs were significantly shorter than the rear ones, Stegosaurus was hardly speedy or agile. Realizing this, the animators of 1999’s Walking with Dinosaurs series gave the creature a frontal swagger to accommodate this difference in limb length.

7. It Wasn’t Much of a Biter.

Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, using skull dimensions and tooth analyses, paleontologist Miriam Reichel found that Stegosaurus’ chompers didn’t exert much force, though being able to snip through “smaller branches” was still on their resume. 

8. In 1920, Stegosaurus was Reimagined as a Dinosaurian Hang-Glider.

Beneath one of the freakiest dinosaur drawings ever conceived, journalist W.H. Ballou wrote that—by "flapping" its plates—Stegosaurus could “[coast] through the air like some gigantic gliding machine” in an article submitted to the Standard-Examiner of Ogden, Utah.

9. Stegosaurus May Have Inhabited Portugal.

Although it was first found in the U.S. (and is usually seen as a quintessentially American dino), fragmentary remains unearthed across the pond strongly imply that Stegosaurus also roamed Portuguese terrain 150 million years ago.

10. It Has an Odd Connection to Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

In one of The Far Side’s classic 1982 strips, a Neanderthal is seen pointing to a Stegosaurus tail, remarking “Now this end we call the thagomizer… after the late Thag Simmonds.” Since then, many paleontologists have been using the term "thagomizer" to denote real-life stegosaur tails.

“I think there should be cartoon confessionals,” Larson himself later opined, “where we could go and say things like, ‘Father, I have sinned—I have drawn dinosaurs and hominids together in the same cartoon.’”

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Denver Museum of Nature & Science
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Construction Workers in Colorado Discover 66-Million-Year-Old Triceratops Skeleton
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Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Construction projects have yielded some pretty amazing ancient finds: ancient ports, Stone Age homes, forgotten cemeteries, burial grounds, and even the bones of King Richard III. Now, The Denver Post reports that workers in Thornton, Colorado, just north of Denver, recently discovered a 66-million-year-old adult triceratops skull, along with other bones, while breaking ground for the city's new public safety facility. It's an incredibly rare find as most of the fossils found in the region are about 12,000 years old.

Instead of digging on—which may have destroyed the skeleton—the workers contacted experts to take a closer look. Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, was called to the scene to examine the bones.

"This is what we as curators dream about—getting a call about a possible fossil and confirming it's not just a dinosaur fossil, but a record-breaking one!" Sertich said in a statement.

Museum staff, construction staff, and museum volunteers work to excavate the Thornton triceratops skeleton on August 30, 2017.
Museum staff, construction staff, and museum volunteers work to excavate the skeleton on August 30, 2017.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science

So far, scientists and volunteer diggers have unearthed the skull, two horns, a portion of the dinosaur's frill, shoulder bones, the beak at the front of the lower jaw, and ribs and vertebrae. The skeleton appears to be separated, indicating that the dinosaur may have died and lain on the ground for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, according to The Washington Post. As it decayed, its bones and flesh fell apart, and other dinosaurs, like T. rex, may have even taken a nibble at the corpse.

Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, speaks with a construction worker while leading the excavation in Thornton, Colorado of a newly discovered triceratops skeleton.
Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, speaks with a construction worker while leading the excavation in Thornton, Colorado of a newly discovered triceratops skeleton.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Experts say the triceratops skeleton could be the most complete Cretaceous dinosaur ever discovered in the Front Range region, and one of the oldest fossils. They've also noted that the newly discovered dino fits a larger pattern: When found in the Denver area, triceratops are typically half the size of similar ones that once lived in the Dakotas and Montana.

A closeup of the triceratops fossil as it's unearthed in Thornton, Colorado.
A closeup of the triceratops fossil as it's unearthed.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science

"We don't really know why," Sertich said in a Facebook Live broadcast. "Even though we have hundreds of triceratops from the American West, we only have three good skulls. And this might be one of the best skeletons to tell us why Denver triceratops are smaller than all of their cousins everywhere else."

[h/t The Denver Post]

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© Zachary James Johnston, The Field Museum
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SUE the T. Rex Is Getting a Makeover
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© Zachary James Johnston, The Field Museum

Our lives are constantly changing—even those of us who are already dead. The beloved fossilized T. rex skeleton known as SUE will soon be treated to a makeover and new digs at The Field Museum in Chicago.

SUE’s move is motivated by more than just luxury; the museum needs to clear out its great hall to make room for the largest dinosaur ever discovered. A private donor has bestowed the museum with a full-size cast of the Argentinean titanosaur Patagotitan mayorum.

Illustration of a titanosaur cast in a great hall.
The Field Museum

The touchable 122-foot-long marvel will stretch across Stanley Field Hall and upward into the second story. SUE will be disassembled in 2018 and eventually relocated to a fancy new suite in another hall along with other fossil specimens.

Illustration comparing the size of a titanosaur, a human, and a T. rex.
The Field Museum

“At 40.5 feet long, she’s the world’s biggest T. rex, but in that giant hall, people sometimes remark that she’s smaller than they expected,” senior exhibitions project manager Hilary Hansen said in a statement.

“By putting her in her own gallery in our Evolving Planet exhibition, she’ll be put into the proper context of her fellow dinosaurs, and she’ll dominate the room.”

(SUE’s sex is unknown, but many museum staffers take a cue from the fossil’s ladylike name and use female pronouns.)

With the new setup comes a whole new look. The SUE we see today is incomplete; when the skeleton was assembled in 2000, dinosaur curators omitted one group of bones, unsure where to put them. They’ve since figured it out. The bones are gastralia, which cage the stomach area like a lower set of ribs.

Dinosaur gastralia arrayed  in a bed of sand.
© Zachary James Johnston, The Field Museum

T. rex had a bulging belly,” associate curator of dinosaurs Pete Makovicky said in the statement. “It wasn’t sleek and gazelle-like the way you might think.”

Over the last two decades since SUE’s assembly we’ve learned a lot about the way SUE and family looked and moved. Makovicky and his colleagues also plan to tinker with SUE’s posture so that upon the grand re-debut in 2019, “she’ll be walking rather than skulking.”

Or strutting, more accurately. The gloating dinosaur’s Twitter bio now reads “Private Suite Haver.”

Never one to be left out of the conversation, SUE issued a public comment, writing, “For years now, I've been pitching this to the Museum. A room with a better defensible position against velociraptor attacks and reduced exposure to possible meteorite collisions. Finally, the mammals in charge have come to their senses."

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