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10 Pointed Facts About Styracosaurus

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1. Individuals Had Slightly Different Frill Spikes.

Also known as “parietal horns,” the relative size of these pointy structures varied noticeably between Styracosaurus specimens.

2. Styracosaurus Probably Used a Different Fighting Style Than Triceratops Did.

In a 2009 effort to shed some light on dinosaurian combat, a paleontological team compared several skulls from Centrosaurus (pictured on the left) and the famed Triceratops. Scars consistent with locked-horn showdowns are, it turns out, quite common on Triceratops heads, but relatively rare in Centrosaurus remains. Perhaps this is because the latter herbivore—like its close cousin Styracosaurus—lacked formidable horns above its eyes and probably had to find other means of clashing with rivals.

“Possibly Centrosaurus wasn’t using its horns for fighting,” says Dr. Andrew Farke (who helped execute this study), “or, if it was fighting, it was concentrating its energies on parts away from the skull, like maybe flank-butting or something like that.”

3. Styracosaurus Appears in the Weirdest Western Ever Made.

Cowboys wrangle stop-motion dinosaurs in Ray Harryhausen’s epic creature feature The Valley of Gwangi (1969).  At one point, predatory “Gwangi” (whose design was loosely based on T. rex and Allosaurus) takes down an enraged Styracosaurus with some help from a spear-toting horseman.

4. …But Was Cut from King Kong (1933).

Though animator Willis O’Brien had shot a thrilling action sequence with his poseable Styracosaurus model, this scene wound up getting scrapped. Fortunately, when the hasty sequel Son of Kong (1933) was churned out less than a year later, “Obie’s” Styracosaurus finally secured some screen time.

5. Scientists Have Been Divvying Up Styracosaurus.

What’s in a (scientific) name? Clarity, for starters. Once upon a time, Styracosaurus included three recognized species:  S. albertensis, S. parksi, and S. ovatus. In 2007, though this dino got a classification makeover, with S. albertensis and S. parksi being merged into a single species thanks to their virtually indistinguishable anatomy. Meanwhile, S. ovatus was placed within an entirely new genus and is now called Rubeosaurus ovatus.

6. Styracosaurus’ Nose Horn was Shorter than Most People Think.

When studying fossils for a living, incomplete specimens can be the bane of your existence, and Styracosaurus’ distinctive nose horn falls into this category: Most of what we know about this nasal apparatus is based on fragmentary fossils. Though it’s traditionally been assumed to have been around 20 inches long, a closer examination reveals that the horn was around half that length (and possibly blunt-tipped).

7. Some Have Said That Styracosaurus Had Absurdly-Huge Jaw Muscles.

The flashy frills of ceratopsians (horned dinos like Styracosaurus and Triceratops) have inspired much debate over the years. Paleontologists Richard Swann Lull and John McLoughlin independently proposed a radical explanation about their function: Perhaps these huge, bony structures were nothing but attachment anchors for the creatures’ (presumably gigantic) jaw muscles. This idea holds that the frill was buried in flesh and bound to the dinosaurs’ necks and shoulders.

Today, most experts currently believe these frills were predominantly display-oriented features. However, there’s no doubt that ceratopsians packed some powerful bites; for more info, check out this entertaining write-up.

8. Styracosaurus Belonged to a Super-Ornamented Subfamily.

The centrosaurinae is a group of ceratopsians whose members lacked large horns above their eyes, had pronounced nose horns instead, and rocked short, well-decorated frills.

9. Crushed Skulls Distorted Many Early Styracosaurus Illustrations.

Fossilization can be a cruel mistress. One of the world’s most complete Styracosaurus skulls contains a crucial flaw: Its frill has been artificially bent by the elements. This specimen was unearthed in the 1910s and helped scientists understand what the strange animal looked like. Several academic paintings and sketches would be based upon this magnificent fossil. But, unfortunately, geological forces had, over time, unnaturally crushed the dinosaur’s frill, forcing it downward and making the apparatus appear as though it jetted out directly behind Styracosaurus’ skull. Thanks to a second skull that turned up later, we now know that this frill was held at a more upwards angle.

10. It’s Named After Ancient Greek Spear Shafts.

The steel spike at the end of a spear was known as a styrax in classical Greece, this term wound up inspiring the first part of Styracosaurus’ genus 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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