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10 Gigantic Facts About Giganotosaurus

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Few scientific subjects can excite people quite like the discovery of some huge, flesh-eating dinosaur. Giganotosaurus fit that bill perfectly and made one humongous splash back when its existence was announced in 1995.

1. Was Giganotosaurus Larger than T. rex? At First, the Answer Looked Like a Definite Yes…

After getting formally described that year, Giganotosaurus fossils found themselves featured everywhere from National Geographic to Good Morning America. Why? Because, at the time, some experts thought this creature was substantially bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex. Early estimates claimed Giganotosaurus stretched 47 feet from nose-tip to tail-tip, whereas the seemingly-dethroned “tyrant lizard” measured around 7 feet shorter. 

2. … But It Doesn’t Anymore.

But those conclusions were based on very incomplete skeletal remains and, today, most paleontologists calculate a tamer length of 40 feet or so for Giganotosaurus. Also, many now argue that while the two titans were comparable in that department, T. rex was probably much heavier.  

3. Giganotosaurus Didn’t Have the Strongest Bite.

You wouldn’t want either dino nibbling on you, but T. rex jaws were clearly built to exert far more force than Giganotosaurus could muster. Appropriately, the former predator’s pearly whites were thick and banana-shaped—perfect for bone-crushing. Giganotosaurus, in contrast, had thinner, blade-like teeth. These would have been more adept at slicing through flesh and came with biting muscles that put greater emphasis on speed over power. 

4. It’s Got a Relative Named After the Great White Shark.

Carcharodontosaurus of Africa was so dubbed as a tribute to this fearsome fish, whose scientific name is Carcharodon carcharias. Someone at the SyFy Channel needs to make the two fight, preferably inside some sort of “-nado.”

5. Giganotosaurus Took on a Heroic Role in James Gurney’s Dinotopia Saga.

Sentient dinosaurs and stranded humans live side by side in these popular novels that inspired an epic ABC film adaptation and a short-lived TV series.  Gurney’s second installment, Dinotopia: The World Beneath (1996) includes some affable Giganotosaurus who rescue our protagonists from a threatening Tyrannosaurus and help chase down an unscrupulous (human) evil-doer.

6. It Also Terrified Viewers in BBC’s Primeval.

The time-traveling program has also featured such A-list dinos as Triceratops and Spinosaurus.

7. Even Giganotosaurus’ Head Size has Been Reassessed.

One bold estimate held that the predator’s skull was almost 6 feet (1.8 meters) long, but, in recent years, that assessment has been widely dismissed and a series of shorter lengths have been proposed. 

8. Its Brain was More or Less Proportioned Like a Modern Reptile’s.

Jes, Flickr

Though some bird-like dinos were decently-endowed in the cerebral sense, Giganotosaurus’ brain cavity is—when compared to the rest of its body—proportionally similar to those of 21st-century lizards, snakes, and turtles. 

9. Giganotosaurus May’ve Been Gregarious.

James Emery, Flickr

Closely associated bones belonging to at least seven individual MapusaurusGiganotosaurus’ close cousin and near look-alike—were uncovered in Argentina during the late 1990s. This merely proves that that these creatures died near one another, but a few paleontologists speculate that the group represented some sort of community and possibly even a wolf-like pack.

10. Its “Hometown” Shows Giganotosaurus Lots of Affection.

Giganotosaurus was originally found near Villa el Chocon. Residents are rather proud of their local dino, a fact reflected not only by their excellent museum but also through an intense Giganotosaurus statue which sits beside a road, staring down at motorists. 

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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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