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10 Motherly Facts About Maiasaura

Maiasaura ’s name literally means “good mother lizard.” But was it really all that parental? Read on to find out.

1. It’s the State Fossil of Montana.

The Blue Sky state bestowed this honor upon Maiasaura in 1985.

2. Some Maiasaura Bones Have Been Sent into Outer Space.

That year also saw NASA propel a Maiasaura bone fragment and partial eggshell into orbit during one of their missions.  Not even Marty McFly had such an eventful 1985. 

3.  Maiasaura is One of the Only Dinos With a Female-Oriented Name.

Dinosaur suffixes can seem awfully monotonous. By far, the most common name ending is “-saurus,” which descends from the Greek word for “lizard.” For reasons we’ll explore later, paleontologist Jack Horner defied this trend and used the term’s female form—“saura”—when naming Maiasaura.

4. Fossilized Feces Imply that Maiasaura Chowed on Woody Foods.

Prehistoric poop can tell you a lot. A remarkable fossilized leaving—or “coprolite”—from Wyoming has long been attributed to Maiasaura. Weirdly, this specimen is loaded with wood fragments, revealing that whatever left it had just finished off one barky breakfast.

5. Maiasaura Built Great Nests (Possibly Even in Colonies).

Several well-preserved, crater-shaped Maiasaura nests have been discovered since 1979. Amazingly, fossilized plant material’s been reported inside a few of them, which presumably helped incubate their eggs. Also, because these structures are often found less than 7 feet apart, Horner has claimed that Maiasaura mothers would flock to communal nesting sites en masse in a kind of dinosaurian maternity ward.  

6. Baby Maiasaura Might Have Been Quite Helpless.

In addition to nests, dozens of infant Maiasaura skeletons have been discovered. As time has gone by, these wee beasties have proven slightly controversial. Early analysts argued that, thanks to some weak limb bones, they were incapable of walking about on their own and therefore depended upon adults for food. But later studies drew the opposite conclusion, reimagining baby Maiasaura as being much more independent.

7. There’s a Bizarre Notion that Maiasaura Used Reptilian “Milk.”

Okay, let’s look at the evidence (such as it is). Certain modern birds (like pigeons, doves, and flamingos) secrete a fatty, liquid-like substance called “crop milk” for their hatchlings. Did dinosaurs do this too? Dr. Paul L. Else thinks at least some species might have produced their own crop milk, citing Maiasaura as a probable example.

But while the idea’s certainly interesting, no compelling, non-speculative evidence currently exists to support it, so Else’s hypothesis hasn’t been taken seriously in paleontological circles.

8. Maiasaura ’s Closely Related to Some Mesmerizing Dinosaur Mummies.

Bones are great, but nothing can “flesh out” our understanding of an extinct animal quite like muscles. In recent years, “mummified” specimens of Brachylophosaurus and Edmontosaurus—two of Maiasaura ’s North American cousins—have turned up, complete with fossilized skin, tissue, and even organs.

9. The Site Maiasaura Was Originally Discovered in is Now Called “Egg Mountain” in Its Honor.

Located near the picturesque city of Choteau, Montana, Egg Mountain’s presently closed to the public. But fear not, paleo-tourists: you can still visit plenty of top-notch museums throughout the state.

10. An Animated Maiasaura Raises a Baby T. rex in You Are Umasou (2010).

Not to nitpick, but Maiasaura technically went extinct roughly 76 million years ago, well before Tyrannosaurus evolved. Still, dinosaur-lovers and anime fans alike will probably get a kick out of this eccentric Japanese film based on a popular book series of the same name.  

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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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