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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…

Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows

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]

The Clever Adaptations That Helped Some Animals Become Gigantic

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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