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10 Horned Facts About Carnotaurus

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Cheer up, Argentina! You may have lost the World Cup, but today, we’re honoring one of your coolest-looking dinosaurs. How’s that for a consolation prize?

1. Carnotaurus’ Name Means “Meat-Eating Bull.”

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To date, Carnotaurus sastrei—which roamed Argentinian wilds around 70 million years ago—is the genus’ only known species.

2. Those Devilish Horns May Have Been Combat-Ready.

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Anchored menacingly above Carnotaurus’ eyes is something we don’t normally associate with predatory animals: a pair of horns. Why were these needed? Well, perhaps rivals dueled every so often. Each horn’s upper side was broad, flat, and seemingly capable of withstanding considerable stress during head-to-head combat. However, a 2009 analysis argues that Carnotaurus’ skull couldn’t long endure “rapid frontal blows.” Thus, the dinos likely would have preferred slow, deliberate shoving matches.

3. There’s A Bit of Debate Over How Strong Carnotaurus’ Bite Was.

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The aforementioned study also claims that Carnotaurus jaws were designed to produce weak, “muscle-driven” bites. In contrast, previous estimates implied that it could chomp down twice as hard as modern alligators do. Crikey!

4. Carnotaurus had Ludicrously Tiny Arms.

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Deride T. rex’s puny forelimbs all you want, but Carnotaurus makes the Tyrant Lizard King look like a heavyweight boxing champ. Granted, its lower arm bones were fairly robust and, accordingly, may not have been 100 percent useless. Yet, it’s still difficult to imagine these bizarre, peg-like appendages playing a huge role in daily life.

5. Still, Carnotaurus Was Frighteningly Fast.

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Here’s a handy survival tip: When being chased by a Carnotaurus, try giving it the slip with some quick turns. Powerful thigh muscles connected to the dinosaur’s thick, muscular tail helped make it a formidable sprinter. But Carnotaurus couldn’t exactly change direction on a dime—the vertebrae in its tail were too tightly interlocked to permit sudden turning.

6. A Pack of Color-Changing Carnotaurus Show up In Michael Crichton’s The Lost World

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In the second novel of his bestselling Jurassic Park series, Crichton throws some camouflaging Carnotaurus at the protagonists, who proceed to scare them off with their flashlights.

7. Disney’s Dinosaur (2000) Took a Lot of Liberties with Carnotaurus’ Size

In this scene, a monstrous Carnotaurus towers over a trio of beaked herbivores known as Iguanodon, which—in real life—were actually longer than the 25-foot predator.

8. It Had Very Bumpy Skin.

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Carnotaurus’ hide—as demonstrated by fossilized skin impressions—was covered in small scales with a smattering of bony lumps called “osteoderms” tossed in for good measure.

9. It’s Related to an Alleged Cannibal.

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Distinctive bite marks have been located on the bones of Majungasaurus, a Carnotaurus cousin from Madagascar. These perfectly correspond to the known dimensions of Majungasaurus jaws and teeth, implying that the dinos frequently made meals of each other.

10. A Super-Powered Carnotaurus Named “Ace” Stars in Dinosaur King, One of the Weirdest Pokemon Rip-Offs You’ll Ever See

Based on a successful line of card and video games, this cartoon series features an adolescent boy named Rex Owen (*cough* “Ash Ketchum!” *cough*). The lad partners with a purple Carnotaurus, which often gets pitted against other dinos in epic, computer-generated battles. We’ll just let this clip speak for itself:

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Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Canada
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The Exquisitely Preserved ‘Mona Lisa of Dinosaurs’ Has Been Named
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Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Canada

Experts say the spectacularly well-preserved nodosaur now on display at Canada's Royal Tyrrell Museum (RTM) represents a new species—a hulking, armored beast that was not too proud to hide when predators were on the prowl. The research team described this "dinosaur equivalent of a tank" in the most recent issue of the journal Current Biology.

The nodosaur's massive remains were uncovered by miners in Alberta in 2011 in what was a seabed about 110 million years ago, when the creature died. The enormous block of stone and fossil was transferred to the museum, where technician Mark Mitchell set about freeing the specimen from its final resting place.

A researcher with a small pick prepares a dinosaur specimen.

The task took Mitchell more than five years and 7000 hours. Every one of them was worth it: The results are breathtaking.

Closeup of a nodosaur fossil.

"This nodosaur is truly remarkable in that it is completely covered in preserved scaly skin, yet is also preserved in three dimensions, retaining the original shape of the animal. The result is that the animal looks almost the same today as it did back in the Early Cretaceous," museum scientist Caleb Brown said in a statement. "If you just squint your eyes a bit, you could almost believe it was sleeping. ... It will go down in science history as one of the most beautiful and best preserved dinosaur specimens—the Mona Lisa of dinosaurs."

While Mitchell chipped away at the stone tomb, Brown and his colleagues began trying to identify the animal inside. They knew it was a member of the stocky, heavily armored nodosaur family, but they couldn't figure out which one.

Eventually they realized why—it's not a species or genus anyone has ever seen before. Even so, the incredible quality of the museum's specimen made it possible for them to reconstruct what it might have looked like in life.

Chemical analysis of the nodosaur's scales and horn sheaths indicated the presence of a reddish-gold pigment called pheomelanin. In people, pheomelanin is what gives redheads their coppery locks and lends our lips and nipples their pinkish color. In nodosaurs, it probably turned them orange.

Some parts of them, at least. The researchers realized that their specimen, a herbivore, most likely had a pale belly, like a squirrel, and darker coloration on its back. This color patterning is called countershading. It's used to help animals blend into their surroundings and hide from predators.

That's right: Apparently the dinosaur's massive punk spikes and tough hide were not enough to keep it safe. It needed camouflage, too.

"Strong predation on a massive, heavily armored dinosaur illustrates just how dangerous the dinosaur predators of the Cretaceous must have been," Brown said.

The team named their new species Borealopelta markmitchelli. The genus name is a combination of "borealis" (Latin for "northern") and "pelta" (Greek for "shield'"). The species name is a tribute to Mitchell, the scientists write, for his "patient and skilled" revealing of their pride and joy.

All images courtesy of the Royal Tyrell Museum.

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What 6 Dinosaurs from Jurassic Park Really Looked Like
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Universal Pictures

by Alex Carter

In the 24 years that have passed since the original Jurassic Park hit theaters, what we know about dinosaurs has changed—a lot. Here's some of the new research that may change how you imagine these ancient animals, along with illustrations of what the animals may have looked like when they actually roamed the Earth.

1. VELOCIRAPTOR

Movie:

Velociraptors in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Velociraptor.
Matt Martyniuk, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA-3.0

A far cry from the large and vicious hunters of the Jurassic Park movies, velociraptors were in fact small and covered in feathers. More like vicious turkeys, if you will. The dinosaur in the movies was based on the Deinonychus, a much larger species whose name, appropriately, means “terrible claw.” (Even Deinonychus wasn't quite as big as the raptors portrayed in the movie.) That said, other large raptors have since been discovered, including the entire genus Utahraptor. (Its discoverers originally considered naming the type species Utahraptor spielbergi in hopes that the director would finance their research, but the name-for-funds deal never went through, so it was ultimately called Utahraptor ostrommaysorum.)

2. TYRANNOSAURUS REX

Movie:

A T. Rex in Jurassic Park.
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Reality:

A feathered version of a T. Rex.
A feathered version of a T. Rex.

Large. Imposing. Fluffy? Apparently, the T. rex looked much, much stranger than the beast brought to life on the silver screen. Its face might have been covered with patches of armored skin and large scales, its eyes were placed much farther forward than other dinosaurs, and it carried itself rather horizontally, not upright, as most people still imagine it. It's thought from discoveries in close relatives that T. rex was covered in some feathers for a part of its life (especially as a juvenile, as seen in The Lost World), although the details remain hotly debated. Also debated are what it used its arms for: Hypotheses have ranged from a role in reproduction to lifting itself up (which is increasingly considered unlikely) to nothing at all.

3. COMPSOGNATHUS

Movie:

A Compsognathus in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A feathered version of a Compsognathus.
A feathered version of a Compsognathus.

This dinosaur was actually bigger in real life, although not by much. The smaller version depicted in the movies was based on what is now believed to be a young (and therefore small) Compsognathus. While many dinosaurs of its type were covered in feathers, there has been a notable lack of evidence about whether compies, as they're known, had feathers or scales. Most artists tend to draw simple proto-feathers, though; the result is an animal that looks more furry than feathery—and remarkably like a stretched rat.

4. TRICERATOPS

Movie:

A Triceratops in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

These creatures are generally portrayed as leathery and pointy—a bit like a rhinoceros designed by committee. The reality is somewhat stranger: They actually resembled porcupines. Some paleontologists believe that several nipple-shaped protrusions in their skin suggest where bristles would have been. In other areas, their skin was likely scaled rather than leathery. Their horns are another mystery. A 2009 study indicated that they were used largely for combat with other Triceratops, but they probably had a role in courtship as well.

5. BRACHIOSAURUS

Movie:

A Brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Brachiosaurus.

In Jurassic Park, the Brachiosaurus is the first dinosaur seen after everyone arrives on the island, memorably rearing up to get at some particularly delicious leafage. But that behavior is now considered unlikely. The book Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs attempted to calculate if Brachiosaurs were able to rear on their hind legs and concluded, “Brachiosaurus would have expended considerably more energy [than a Diplodocus], could not have attained a stable upright pose, and would have risked serious injury to its forefeet when descending too rapidly.” Dr. Heinrich Mallison noted that it “was probably unlikely to use a bipedal … posture regularly and for an extended period of time. Although this dinosaur certainly could have reared up, for example during mating, this was probably a rare and short-lived event.”

6. SPINOSAURUS

Movie:

A Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III.
Universal Pictures

Reality:

A drawing of a Spinosaurus.

Joschua Knüppe, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

The Spinosaurus was discovered only a few years after the Tyrannosaurus, but it never attracted fans in quite the same way. The fossils were destroyed in World War II during an Allied bombing raid on Munich, and the dinosaur became largely forgotten. However, Jurassic Park III resurrected the dinosaur's fame with a showdown that saw the Spinosaurus kill a Tyrannosaurus. Many fans cried foul, and the size of the Spinosaurus was indeed a mistake … in reality, it was much bigger.

It would have been up to three times heavier and 20 feet longer; a creature on the higher end of that range would have been bigger than even Jurassic World's (invented) I. rex. But could Spinosaurus have taken on a T. rex and lived? Almost certainly not. While physically bigger and armed with a bigger jaw, it was much less powerful, as most paleontologists now believe Spinosaurus used its long jaws for fishing. It actually lived mostly in the water.

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