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10 Pebbly Facts About Scelidosaurus

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Scelidosaurus’ appeal is two-fold. Back in the 19th century, its discovery helped us understand just how strange dinosaurs really were. And, to boot, the primitive critter offers some much-needed perspective on an underexplored chapter in dinosaurian evolution. So what’s not to like?

1. It Was an Early Forerunner of Heavily-Armed Herbivores like Stegosaurus and Ankylosaurus.

Wanna be a paleontologist? One of the toughest parts of the gig is untangling an extinct animal’s family tree. Scelidosaurus, which evolved around 190 million years ago, is clearly a primitive thyreophoran, or armored dinosaur. At some point, this group split into two major branches: the tank-like ankylosaurs and the spiky-tailed stegosaurs. Scientists differ on exactly where Scelidosaurus fits within the thyreophora tapestry; some claim it’s more closely aligned with the ankylosaur camp while others feel it preceded the divide and, hence, may be ancestral to both factions.

2. Scelidosaurus Was Named by the Same Dude who Coined the Word “Dinosaur.”

Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) invented the latter term during the spring of 1842. A year after Scelidosaurusdiscovery in 1858, this gifted naturalist scientifically described the creature and, due to its well-preserved hindquarters, gave it a name that means “limb lizard.”

3. Its Scales Were Small and Bumpy.

Associated skin impressions reveal that Scelidosaurus’ hide (at least the bits which weren’t covered in armored plating) featured tiny, rounded scales which created a pebbly, Gila monster-esque texture. 

4. Thanks to Nine Dino-Loving Grandkids, You Can See a Terrific Scelidosaurus Cast in Utah.

London looks, Flickr

Scelidosaurus displays are an uncommon sight in North America, but in 2011, Virginius Dabney of St. George, Utah, helped bring a top quality skeletal cast to this picturesque little city. When the locally-based Dinosaur Discovery Site museum expressed an interest in obtaining this item, Dabney, at his grandchildren’s urging, donated almost all of the necessary dough. “Now the grandkids can see grandpa’s dinosaur,” he said.

5. We’ve Found Some Pleasantly Intact Scelidosaurus Armor.

Scutes (bony armor plates nestled in an animal’s skin) usually scatter during fossilization. Fortunately, however, one beautiful Scelidosaurus specimen opted to leave most of its scutes intact and in the same bodily places they occupied during life. Now that’s courtesy!

6. It’s Classified as a “Bird-Hipped” Dinosaur.

Such fan favorites as Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Iguanodon are technically known as ornithischian—or “bird-hipped”—dinos due to (among other things) the superficially avian-like position of their pubic bones. Long-necked dinosaurs like Brachiosaurus and carnivorous species such as T. rex belong to the “lizard-hipped” saurischian order. Confusingly, actual birds also belong to this second bunch. Hey, titles can be deceiving...

7. Scelidosaurus Can Claim an Important Historical Distinction.

This British critter was the first dinosaur to be academically described on the basis of a well-preserved, articulated, and (mostly) complete skeleton. Prior to its discovery, the scientific community had little more than isolated bones and fragmented dino bits to work with.

8. The Animal Was a Jurassic Island Dweller.

During its day, higher sea levels converted much of Western Europe (including the UK) into a series of clustered islands.

9. Scelidosaurus Fossils Hail From a Very Narrow Geographic Range.

Thus far, they’ve exclusively turned up in the greater Charmouth/Lyme Regis area of Dorset, England. To explain this, some scientists posit that, like today’s komodo dragon, Scelidosaurus may have only inhabited a single island, which would have been somewhere near these present-day villages.

10. But It Was Briefly Thought to Have Also Inhabited Arizona.

In 1989, a handful of isolated scutes which had been found in this southwestern state were cited as Scelidosaurus remains. However, several paleontologists have since rejected the claim, pointing out that these plates don’t look sufficiently Scelidosaurus-like to warrant a precise identification.

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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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Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder
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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