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10 Gigantic Facts About Giganotosaurus

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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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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