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10 Clawed Facts About Therizinosaurus

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If T. rex is the Citizen Kane of dinosaurs, Therizinosaurus and its kin are The Rocky Horror Picture Show: They’re strange-looking, slightly threatening, and command a dedicated fan base. Here’s some trivia guaranteed to impress your fossil-loving amigos.

1. Therizinosaurus Had the Longest Claws of Any Known Animal

The humongous claws on this dino’s hands were capable of reaching well over two feet in length. Appropriately, its name literally means “scythe lizard.”

2. Despite This, it Was (Probably) An Herbivore

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With fingers that seemingly belong in a slasher flick, you’d think these creatures were designed to slice and dice hapless victims. But most of its relatives had small, leaf-shaped teeth built to munch on foliage. (Scientists have yet to uncover a Therizinosaurus skull.) So what’s with those frightening digits? The theory is that, come mealtime, they might have helped the dinos pull down lush tree branches. For a cooler explanation, skip ahead to bullet point number nine.

3. Therizinosaurus Was Originally Mistaken for a Huge, Turtle-Like Reptile.

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In 1954, Russian paleontologist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Malayev concluded that the beast basically resembled a modern sea turtle. He wrote that its distinctive forelimbs were in fact “powerful swimming organs” with claws designed for “cutting aquatic vegetation.”

4. It’s Part of a Formerly-Baffling Family.

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When it became clear that these things were actually dinosaurs, scientists didn’t initially know how to classify the eccentric Therizinosaurids. Could they be related to the gigantic, long-necked sauropods like Jurassic Park’s Brachiosaurus? Or did they belong to the "bird-hipped" order of dinosaurs along with Stegosaurus and Triceratops?

Despite their plant-guzzling habits, closer examination revealed that therizinosaurs hailed from a group known as theropods, the vast majority of which (Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor, etc.) were carnivores. Strange as this might sound, today’s pandas (which only occasionally eat meat) are similarly considered members of the mammalian "carnivora" order.

5. Some Therizinosaurs Were Covered in Feathers.

Danny Cicchetti

China’s Beipiaosaurus had multiple layers of primitive feathers, as seen in some beautifully-preserved fossils. Given its limb proportions, Beipiaosaurus definitely didn’t fly, so this plumage likely served to keep it warm and attract the opposite sex.

6. A Nest of Therizinosaur Eggs Was Found in 2013.

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After locating 17 clutches of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, Hokkaido University’s Yoshitsugu Kobayashi concluded that they’d been laid by indigenous therizinosaurs, a few bony remains of which had been unearthed nearby. If true, this would imply that the animals were somewhat social (at least, come nesting season).

7. Therizinosaurs Had Weird Feet.

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Ever the nonconformists, therizinosaur feet rested on four toes while standing and walking. Most theropods, meanwhile, only used three.

8. Therizinosaurus Was One Hefty Dino.

Scott Hartman

Let’s return to Therizinosaurus itself, shall we? The red areas in the above picture represent all of its presently-known skeletal material (the rest has yet to be found). Based on these partial remains, scientists have ascertained that the critter’s total length was somewhere in the ballpark of 10 meters (33 feet) while it could’ve weighed upwards of 5 tons. Not too shabby…

9. Therizinosaurus Had to Cope With a Huge T. rex Cousin.

Tarbosaurus bataar and Tyrannosaurus rex are so similar that they may have belonged to the same genus (though most experts disregard that idea). The former predator occupied Therizinosaurus’ Mongolian range roughly 70 million years ago, making this herbivore’s fearsome claws look all the more necessary. Here’s a cool (Greek language) clip from 2002’s Chased by Dinosaurs documentary in which these natural enemies spectacularly square off.

10. There’s a Life-Sized Therizinosaurus Statue in Poland.

Alina Zienowicz

Jurapark, located in the village of Bałtów, contains dozens of full-scale dinosaur models, including Allosaurus, Diplodocus, and the world-famous Iguanodon.

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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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