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10 Big-Nosed Facts About Muttaburrasaurus

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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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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