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10 Predatory Facts About Albertosaurus

Neil Conway

This week, we’re shining our spotlight on the imposing Albertosaurus, one of T. rex’s best-known cousins.  

1. It Was one of Several North American Tyrannosaurs.

Millions of years before Tyrannosaurus rex showed up, smaller relatives like Alaska’s Nanuqsaurus, New Mexico’s Bistahieversor, and Utah’s Teratophoneus—whose excellent name means “monstrous murderer”—terrorized the continent.

2. Some Speculate that Albertosaurus Traveled in Packs.

Ryan Somma

It’s flat-out impossible to fully ascertain an extinct animal’s social norms on the basis of nothing but fossilized bones. With that being said, Albertosaurus skeletons have been found in large groups, prompting a few paleontologists to wonder if these 30-foot carnivores were potential pack-hunters.  

3. Albertosaurus Bit Each Other’s Faces

Ryan Somma

Deep, tell-tale scars reveal that Albertosaurus and Tyrannosaurus would not only bite other members of their own species, but occasionally target a very specific region while doing so: namely, the facial area. One especially-unlucky Albertosaurus managed to survive after having a rival chomp down on its lower jaw twice! 

4. Albertosaurus’ Ancestors Migrated From Asia

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The earliest tyrannosauroids—which evolved in or near modern-day China during the Jurassic period (199.6-145.5 million years ago)—were hardly intimidating. Feathery Dilong paradoxus, for example, would’ve been slightly over 6 feet long when fully grown. Yet, as this formerly-humble group gradually spread out across Asia, Europe, and the Americas, it produced some of the biggest predators our planet’s ever seen.

5. It Wasn’t the Only Dino Named After Alberta.

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Albertaceratops (pictured above) and Albertonykus were also named for this dinosaur-rich Canadian province.

6. Albertosaurus’ Teeth Took a Beating.

Robert Taylor

Ripping through flesh can put a lot of pressure on your pearly whites. Dino tooth expert William Abler has hypothesized that, while feeding, a line of serrations on Albertosaurus teeth helped keep them from cracking.

7. We’ve Got Skin Impressions from Albertosaurus’ Closest Relative.

Wikimedia Commons

Pebbly, Gila monster-like scale impressions have been found in association with Gorosaurus libratus, a sleek carnivore from Montana and Western Canada that is so Albertosaurus-like that some scientists think it really belongs to the same genus. 

8. Compared to T. rex, Albertosaurus Was Almost Petite.

Wikimedia Commons

Though Tyrannosaurus rex only stretched 10 to 12 feet longer than Albertosaurus, most estimates indicate that the bigger dino was significantly heavier. Adult “rexes” are generally thought to have weighed in at 5 to 7 tons. Slender Albertosaurus, on the other hand, likely maxed out at 2 to 3.

9. Juveniles Were Seemingly Built for Speed.

Falashad

Leggy young Albertosaurus had proportionately lengthier hind limbs than mature specimens, indicating that they could’ve far out-paced older rivals [PDF].

10. A Long-Lost Albertosaurus Bone Bed was Rediscovered 86 Years Later.

James West

Finding several large, predatory dinosaurs at the same site qualifies as a major-league discovery. So when fossil-hunting rock star Barnum Brown plucked nine Albertosaurus skeletons from a mass graveyard in 1910, it was a pretty big deal. But the explorer never recorded his treasure trove’s whereabouts for posterity’s sake. For 86 years, scientists could only imagine what other wonders it might yet yield.

But four photographs did survive, and in 1996, paleontologist Phil Currie used these snapshots to finally relocate Brown’s mysterious site. And the good news didn’t stop there: The bones of as many as 26 individual Albertosaurus were found lying in wait.

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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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