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10 Big-Nosed Facts About Muttaburrasaurus

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Get a whiff of Muttaburrasaurus, everybody—this dino’s awesomeness “nose” no limits!

1. It’s Among Australia’s Most Complete Dinosaurs.

Relatively speaking, there aren’t many dino fossils Down Under; the sunburnt country has produced fewer than 20 recognized species. Those that do hail from this continent are generally known from a handful of isolated or fragmented remains. Luckily, however, we have multiple Muttaburrasaurus specimens to work with, ranging from partial skeletons to shattered skulls.

2. Muttaburrasaurus May Have Had a Musical Schnoz.

That abnormal nose has given many a scientist pause over the years. Did its enlarged nasal passages produce resonant, long-range calls? Or did its bulbous snout help warm up the cool, Australian air? (Back in its day, parts of this continent sat well within the Antarctic circle.) Both ideas have merit, but, until some heads with well-preserved soft tissue start turning up, neither can be further scrutinized. 

3. The Animal Had Curious Teeth.

Despite being an ornithopod, or “duck-billed” dinosaur, Muttaburrasaurus had one feature in common with the distantly-related Triceratops and its horned kin. Like these spikier herbivores (but unlike most of its closer cousins), Muttaburrasaurus sported strong jaws and teeth which were clearly designed for heavy-duty shearing. In fact, these chompers were so powerful-looking that (some argue) Muttaburrasaurus might have even been capable of tearing through carcasses, though fibrous plants are a more likely entrée.

4. There’s a Muttaburrasaurus Statue in Queensland.

When traveling through the town of Hughenden, be sure to check out “Mutt”—a full-sized, fiberglass Muttaburrasaurus replica near Main Street. The species takes its name from a neighboring town called Muttaburra, where it was originally discovered in 1963.  

5. …And a Muttaburrasaurus Playground near Melbourne.

If you build it they will come—especially if “it” happens to be dinosaur-shaped. Meet Mimi the Muttaburrasaurus. Aussie kids can climb through her belly, slide down her tail, or hide inside her massive, sculpted eggs. Oh, and she’s got her own children’s book, too.

6. Contrary to Earlier Belief, Muttaburrasaurus Probably Lacked Thumb Spikes.

At first, Muttaburrasaurus was thought to have been related to Iguanodon, a plant-eating dino with conical spikes on its hands. Though many assumed Muttaburrasaurus had them as well, it now appears that these two creatures are distant cousins, and, hence, the latter likely lacked such spurs.

7. Some Muttaburrasaurus Bones Were Trampled by 20th-Century Livestock.

Queensland rancher Douglas Langdon deserves credit for bringing Muttaburrasaurus to scientific light, since its original remains were located on his property during the 1960s. However, by the time these precious bones were at long last collected, they’d spent several decades being exposed to the unwary hooves of his sheep & cattle, which wore many down considerably.

8. Kellogg’s Helped Sponsor its Museum Debut.

The company which brought us Corn Flakes and Froot Loops also ensured that Muttaburrasaurus would get its time in the spotlight. Getting this dinosaur’s first-known skeleton cleaned up and put on display in its native country was a meticulous, costly process which Kellogg’s chose to help finance. We can only assume Tony the Tiger would’ve called Muttaburrasaurus “Grrrrreat!” 

9. Trackways Suggest Muttaburrasaurus Might have Been a Decent Swimmer.

Australia’s Dinosaur Stampede National Monument might soon have to change its epic name. This dazzling site (located near Winton, Queensland) has yielded over 3000 footprints, and for many years, scientists held that they’d been laid haphazardly by hundreds of panicking dinos. But the truth may be far less dramatic: New research indicates that these tracks weren’t actually laid on dry land, but instead by dinosaurian swimmers casually crossing some prehistoric river. Previously, a series of large, three-toed prints were attributed to an antagonistic predator, one which allegedly triggered the “stampede.” However, paleontologist Anthony Romilio claims they actually belonged to a wading, Muttaburrasaurus-like herbivore.   

10. Muttaburrasaurus Appeared in a Nude Calendar to Help Some Good Causes.

Never let it be said that Muttaburra lacks chutzpah. To generate cash for a local school and an ambulance defibrillator, the local Community Development Association began producing “slightly risqué” calendars. Buck-naked citizens stood with every prop from vegetables to fire hoses, but the ante was seriously upped when two older residents posed with a life-sized Muttaburrasaurus replica. Mercifully, these photos don’t appear to have found their way online. Please help keep it that way. 

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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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iStock

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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