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10 Chilly Facts About Cryolophosaurus

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Dinosaurs once inhabited every continent and today, we’ll be strapping on our snowshoes to take a closer look at Antarctica’s dashiest species: Cryolophosaurus ellioti.

1. Cryolophosaurus Rocked some Offbeat Headgear.

This thing really cut an unusual profile. Generally, in theropod (aka “meat-eating”) dinosaurs, head crests run parallel to the sides of the skull. Yet rebellious Cryolophosaurus defies this trend. Like a fanning peacock tail, its curved crest faces forward. 

2. Cryolophosaurus has Earned the Nickname “Elvisaurus” for its Presley-Esque Crest.

And, like a hunka hunka burning love, Cryolophosaurus probably used that dazzling ornament to attract the opposite sex.

3. One Unfortunate Cryolophosaurus May Have Choked to Death on a Rib.

Wedged inside the throat of one large Cryolophosaurus skeleton is what appears to be an herbivorous dinosaur’s rib. Did the big carnivore fatally gag on that bone? Perhaps. On the other hand, a few scientists have argued that this rib belonged to the Cryolophosaurus itself and was maneuvered into such an awkward position post mortem.

4. Dinosaur Fossils Didn’t Show Up in Antarctica Until the 1980s.   

The South Pole finally yielded some dinosaur bones when the remains of an armored grazer were discovered on James Ross Island in 1986. However, this poor creature wouldn’t be given its official scientific name—Antarctopelta oliveroi—until 2006. Cryolophosaurus, meanwhile, was unearthed in 1991 and named in 1994. 

5. A Few Other Antarctic Dinos Have Since Come to Light.

Add little Trinisaura, long-necked Glacialisaurus and an unnamed giant herbivore  to this small-but-growing list.

6. Cryolophosaurus was Conspicuously Large for Its Time

One hundred and ninety million years ago, Cryolophosaurus ranked among the world’s biggest predatory dinosaurs, with an estimated length of over 20 feet. Truly huge varieties—like North America’s Allosaurus —wouldn’t start evolving until several million years later.

7. When Cryolophosaurus Lived, Antarctica Looked Quite Different.

Antarctica used to be significantly closer to the equator and even boasted its own forests. Also, the continent’s weather patterns were milder than those it currently withstands.

8. Scavengers Apparently Nibbled on One Specimen.

Some Cryolophosaurus bones have been found with nibble-like markings, possibly indicating that their owner became something’s dinner after kicking the bucket.

9. Cryolophosaurus Can Likely Tell Us a Great Deal About Dinosaurian Evolution.

As a primitive theropod from a region of the globe in which—until fairly recently—dinosaur fossils had never turned up, Cryolophosaurus seems rather promising to several paleontologists. At present, we’ve only got some incomplete cranial and skeletal material to go by. But if and when additional remains start emerging, who knows what surprises this creature might have in store for us?

10. A Recurring Character on PBS’ Dinosaur Train is Known as “King Cryolophosaurus.”

Does this guy’s singing voice remind you of a certain rock star we mentioned earlier? If so, the resemblance is probably 100 percent coincidental…

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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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