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10 Speedy Facts About Gallimimus

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Why do we love dinosaurs? Obviously, people have their own personal reasons, but Gallimimus may represent the key to understanding how these long-dead animals have become so overwhelmingly popular. Gallimimus—like many fossilized beasts—is a mesmerizing blend of the familiar and the alien. Read on to find out why.

1. It Belongs to a Large Group of Ostrich Copycats.

Called “ornithomimids” by specialists, these long-armed, long-necked, long-legged critters inhabited Asia and North America during the late Cretaceous period (100-65 million years BCE). Gallimimus was among the largest, although some species—as we’ll see—were probably taller than T. rex.

2. Gallimimus Had “Paper-Thin” Jaws.

Thanks to research executed by Norwegian paleontologist Jørn Hurum, we now know that several of the bones in Gallimimus’ beak and lower jaw were only a few millimeters in total thickness.  

3. Its Hands Were Relatively Short.

Ornithomimids are famous for—among other things—their lanky, elongated forelimbs. Yet Gallimimus’ arms, claws, and hands were proportionately short. This possibly means that the animal wasn’t as dexterous as its relatives, some of which likely grabbed tasty tree branches while feeding.

4. Some Ornithomimids Deliberately Swallowed Rocks.

Take 37 seconds out of your busy day and watch this video:

You’ll see a predatory avian busying itself by eating pebbles. What’s going on? Unlike us spoiled mammals, birds can’t chew. Naturally, this makes digestion somewhat difficult. So some feathered foodies help process their meals by swallowing tiny stones, which help mash up chow internally. Fossilized stomach contents indicate that at least a few ornithomimids used this same technique.

5. Gallimimus Posed its Arms Very Differently than We Do.

Can you touch the side of your arm with the side of your pinky finger? Probably not (and if you can, it might be time to seek medical attention). Dinosaurs like Gallimimus had wrists which would have allowed them to ace that little challenge. Like birds, their hands were built for flexing in this awkward direction. However, there’s a trade-off. Go outside and dribble a basketball. Now smirk with the knowledge that Gallimimus could never do this because its wrists were incapable of moving its palms to parallel the ground. Fellow humans, this calls for some gloating!

6. Jurassic Park Animators Got Up and Ran Around Like a Herd of Gallimimus Behind the Scenes.

Over two dozen Gallimimus come racing towards Spielberg’s camera in this thrilling scene from the 1993 mega-blockbuster. To help visualize the sequence, Jurassic Park’s animation team members filmed themselves imitating these frenzied dinos while prancing through a studio parking lot. 

7. Most Ornithomimid Names Aren’t Particularly Imaginative.

Despite looking somewhat emu-like, Gallimimus’ genus name means “chicken mimic.” Its similarly-built cousins Pelicanimimus, Struthiomimus, and Ornithomimus have names which translate to “pelican mimic,” “ostrich mimic,” and “bird mimic,” respectively. 

8. Some Scientists Have Argued that Gallimimus Ate Like A Duck.

Soft tissue isn’t often preserved in fossilized skeletons, but a choice Gallimimus specimen found during the early 2000s gave us a nice look at this dinosaur’s mouth, and comb-like ridges were spotted near its beak. At first, these looked suspiciously similar to the straining mechanisms today’s ducks use while gobbling up small organisms in bodies of water. Gallimimus, it seemed, behaved likewise. However, the structures can also be seen in some herbivorous turtles, creatures which simply bite through foliage instead. 

9. At Least Some Ornithomimids Had Primitive Wings.

The feathered dino club just keeps getting bigger. Ornithomimid skeletons complete with what appear to be enlarged arm feathers have been found in Canada.

10. One of Gallimimus’ (Possible) Relatives Had Terrifyingly-Huge Arms.

Deinocheirus was utterly humongous. A probable ornithomimid, two bodiless arms belonging to this dino were unearthed in Mongolia back in the 1960s. But here’s the scary part: Each one was over 8 feet long! Dinosaur buffs would have to hold out until 2013 before any reasonably-complete skeletons turned up. Thankfully, it was well worth the wait: We now know that the mysterious Deinocheirus had a sail on its back and could reach over 16 feet in height. Universal Pictures seriously needs to consider putting three or four in their upcoming Jurassic Park sequel… 

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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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In the early 2000s, a team of paleontologists inadvertently set the stage for a years-long scientific saga after they excavated a well-preserved partial Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton from Montana's Hell Creek formation. While transporting the bones, the scientists were forced to break a femur. Pieces from inside the thigh bone fell out, and these fragments were sent to Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University, for dissection and analysis.

Under a microscope, Schweitzer thought she could make out what appeared to be cells and tiny blood vessels inside the pieces, similar to those commonly discovered inside fresh bone. Further analysis revealed what appeared to be animal proteins, which sent Schweitzer reeling. Could she have just discovered soft tissue inside dinosaur leg bone many millions of years old, found in ancient sediments laid down during the Cretaceous period? Or was the soft stuff simply a substance known as biofilm, which would have been formed by microbes after the bone had already fossilized?

Following a seemingly endless series of debates, studies, and papers, Schweitzer's hunch was proven correct. That said, this contentious conclusion wasn't made overnight. To hear the whole saga—and learn what it means for science—watch the recent episode of Stated Clearly below, which was first spotted by website Earth Archives.

[h/t Earth Archives]

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Fossilized Poop Shows Some Herbivorous Dinosaurs Loved a Good Crab Dinner
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Lead author Karen Chin of the University of Colorado Boulder
Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder

Scientists can learn a lot about the prehistoric world through very, very old poop. Just recently, researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder and Kent State University studying fossilized dinosaur poop discovered that some herbivores weren't as picky about their diets as we thought. Though they mostly ate plants, large dinosaurs living in Utah 75 million years ago also seem to have eaten prehistoric crustaceans, as Nature News reports.

The new study, published in Scientific Reports, finds that large dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous period seem to have eaten crabs, along with rotting wood, based on the content of their coprolites (the more scientific term for prehistoric No. 2). The fossilized remains of dinos' bathroom activities were found in the Kaiparowits rock formation in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a known hotspot for pristine Late Cretaceous fossils.

"The large size and woody contents" of the poop suggest that they were created by dinosaurs that were well-equipped to process fiber in their diets, as the study puts it, leading the researchers to suggest that the poop came from big herbivores like hadrosaurs, whose remains have been found in the area before.

Close up scientific images of evidence of crustaceans in fossilized poop.
Chin et al., Scientific Reports (2017)

While scientists previously thought that plant-eating dinosaurs like hadrosaurs only ate vegetation, these findings suggest otherwise. "The diet represented by the Kaiparowits coprolites would have provided a woody stew of plant, fungal, and invertebrate tissues," the researchers write, including crabs (Yum). These crustaceans would have provided a big source of calcium for the dinosaurs, and the other invertebrates that no doubt lived in the rotting logs would have provided a good source of protein.

But they probably didn't eat the rotting wood all year, instead munching on dead trees seasonally or during times when other food sources weren’t available. Another hypothesis is that these "ancient fecal producers," as the researchers call them, might have eaten the rotting wood, with its calcium-rich crustaceans and protein-laden invertebrates, during egg production, similar to the feeding patterns of modern birds during breeding season.

Regardless of the reason, these findings could change how we think about what big dinosaurs ate.

[h/t Nature News]

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