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10 Crested Facts About Dilophosaurus

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Let's take a closer look at Dilophosaurus, an off-kilter dino that Jurassic Park turned into a Mesozoic celebrity.

1. Sorry, Spielberg: Dilophosaurus Probably Wasn’t Poisonous...

Both the first Jurassic Park film and the Michael Crichton novel upon which it’s based feature toxin-spewing Dilophosaurus. However, at over 20 feet long, the real animal was an unusually-large predator for its time. As such, it would’ve likely been plenty scary without producing poisons, and there’s currently no strong evidence that can support this spurt of artistic license.

2. …And, it Also Lacked a Flashy Neck Frill.

The liberties keep on coming! One of these critters pounces on the film’s human villain after sprouting some bizarre, vibrating fins. Modern frilled lizards (Chlamydosaurus kingii) make themselves look bigger with similar structures, but, again, Dilophosaurus undoubtedly lacked them. Still, fans can at least credit Universal Pictures with getting the dinosaur’s bony head crests (mostly) right.

3. Dilophosaurus Was Discovered by a Native American.

In 1942, Navajo Jesse Williams led fossil-hunters Bill Rush, Ed Kott, and Sam Welles to the site where he’d happened upon the first known Dilophosaurus remains two years earlier.

4. Tantalizingly Dilophosaurus-Like Tracks Have Been Found in New England.

Dilophosaurus Footprint in Red Fleet Dinosaur Tracks Park, Utah, via

Although Dilophosaurus bones hail exclusively from the American southwest, a series of footprints belonging to a very similar dino were spotted in some Massachusetts and Connecticut rock of roughly the same geologic age during the 1840s. Since one can’t know for sure whether Dilophosaurus laid them or not, these tracks were given the scientific name Eubrontes giganteus by naturalist Edward Hitchcock (they’ve since been honored as Connecticut’s official state fossil).

5. Dilophosaurus Used to Be Called “Megalosaurus wetherilli.”

Picture a classification-based island of misfit toys. For many years, wildly-different meat-eating dinosaurs found themselves erroneously lumped together under the name “Megalosaurus.”

In 1824, England’s Megalosaurus bucklandii became the first dinosaur to be scientifically named, and, at first, Dilophosaurus wetherilli was misinterpreted as a new species of this genus. The latter animal, which actually bore very little resemblance to that British beastie, was given its own, brand-new genus in 1970.

6. Its Teeth Were Unevenly-Anchored.

Much ado has been made about Dilophosaurus’ dentition. Towards the back of its upper jaw, several teeth are weakly-rooted, but those closer to the front appear significantly firmer. As a whole, many scientists claim, Dilophosaurus chompers weren’t strong enough for taking down larger prey despite the carnivore’s size.

7. Dilophosaurus Apparently Sat Like a Bird.

Andrew Borgen, Flickr

Skeletons are great, but, in a way, dinosaur footprints give us something even more incredible: fossilized behavior. Dilophosaurus has been tentatively credited with leaving an exceptional set of tracks in present-day Utah. Clearly made by an animal at rest, these prints include both fore- and hindlimb impressions. While squatting down for a breather, their maker’s palms—in classical bird-like fashion—faced each other via an upright, “clapping” position.  

8. It Might Have Been a Fish-Eater.

Needle-like, puncturing teeth may have helped Dilophosaurus snag wriggly, prehistoric fish. In this scenario, its high-set nostrils would have poked above the water’s surface should the creature ever decide to do a heron impression.

9. Some Alleged Dilophosaurus Feather Imprints Were Likely Misidentified.

Can we add Dilophosaurus to the rapidly-growing list of feathered dinosaurs? Not yet. Footprints left by one individual included what appeared to be feathery impressions pressed into the surrounding mud. Unfortunately, many now hold that these markings were more likely a series of frayed grooves created by the dinosaur shifting its weight around in the soft sediment. What a letdown…

10. Dilophosaurus is One of the Few Jurassic Dinosaurs in the Original Jurassic Park.

Seven dinos appear in this 1993 sci-fi epic—and among these, only the long-necked Brachiosaurus and the slender Dilophosaurus actually lived during earth’s Jurassic period (201.3 – 145 million years ago). Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Velociraptor, Gallimimus, and Parasaurolophus all evolved amidst the subsequent Cretaceous period (though, granted, “Cretaceous Park” isn’t exactly the coolest title. You win this round, Hollywood!). 

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Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder
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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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AMNH // R. Mickens
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What It’s Like to Write an Opera About Dinosaurs
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AMNH // R. Mickens

There are many challenges that face those writing the lyrics to operas, but figuring out what can rhyme with dinosaur names isn’t often one of them. But wrangling multisyllabic, Latin- and Greek-derived names of prehistoric creatures into verse was an integral part of Eric Einhorn’s job as the librettist behind Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt, a new, family-friendly opera currently running at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Created by On Site Opera, which puts on operas in unusual places (like Madame Tussauds Wax Museum) across New York City, in conjunction with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Pittsburgh Opera, Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt follows the true story of Rhoda Knight and her grandfather, the famous paleoartist Charles R. Knight.

Knight worked as a freelance artist for the American Museum of Natural History from 1896 until his death in 1953, creating images of extinct species that paved the way for how we imagine dinosaurs even now. He studied with taxidermists and paleontology experts and was one of the first to paint dinosaurs as flesh-and-blood creatures in natural habitats rather than fantastical monsters, studying their bones and creating sculptural models to make his renderings as accurate as contemporary science made possible.

In the 20-minute opera, singers move around the museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, performing among skeletons and even some paintings by Knight himself. Einhorn, who also serves as the director of On Site Opera and stage director for the opera, wrote the libretto based on stories about the real-life Rhoda—who now goes by Rhoda Knight Kalt—whom he met with frequently during the development process.

Soprano Jennifer Zetland (Rhoda) sings in front of a dinosaur skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History.
AMNH // R. Mickens

“I spent a lot of time with Rhoda just talking about her childhood,” he tells Mental Floss, gathering anecdotes that could be worked into the opera. “She tells this great story of being in the museum when they were unpacking the wooly mammoth,” he says. "And she was just there, because her grandfather was there. It's being at the foot of greatness and not even realizing it until later.”

But there was one aspect of Rhoda’s childhood that proved to be a challenge in terms of turning her story into a performance. “Unfortunately, she was a really well-behaved kid,” Einhorn says. “And that doesn't really make for a good opera.”

Knight Kalt, who attended the opera’s dress rehearsal, explains that she knew at the time that if she misbehaved, she wouldn’t be allowed back. “I knew that the only way I could be with my grandfather was if I was very quiet,” she says. “Sometimes he would stand for an hour and a half discussing a fossil bone and how he could bring that alive … if I had interrupted then I couldn't meet him [at the museum anymore].”

In the fictionalized version of Knight Kalt's childhood (which takes place when Rhoda is 8), Rhoda looks around the museum for the missing bones of the dinosaur Deinocheirus so that her grandfather can draw them. The Late Cretaceous dino, first discovered in 1965, almost didn't make it into the show, though. In the first draft of the libretto, the dinosaur Rhoda is searching for in the museum was a relatively new dinosaur species found in China and first unveiled in 2015—Zhenyuanlong suni—but the five-syllable name proved impossible to rhyme or sing.

Rhoda Knight Kalt stands next to the head of a dinosaur.
Rhoda Knight Kalt
Shaunacy Ferro

But Einhorn wanted to feature a real dinosaur discovery in the opera. A paleontologist at the museum, Carl Mehling, suggested Deinocheirus. “There are two arms hanging right over there,” Einhorn says, gesturing across the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, “and until [recently] the arms were the only things that had ever been discovered about Deinocheirus.” Tying the opera back to an actual specimen in the museum—one only a few feet away from where the opera would be staged—opened up a whole new set of possibilities, both lyrically and otherwise. “Once we ironed that out, we knew we had good science and better rhyming words.”

As for Knight Kalt, she says the experience of watching her childhood unfold in operatic form was a little weird. “The whole story makes me laugh,” she says. But it was also a perfectly appropriate way to honor her grandfather. “He used to sing while he was painting,” she says. “He loved the opera.”

Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt will be performed at the American Museum of Natural History on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until October 15. Performances are free with museum admission, but require a reservation. The opera will later travel to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Pittsburgh Opera.

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