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10 Bumpy Facts About Ceratosaurus

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Like a ’56 T-Bird parked in a lot full of hybrids, Ceratosaurus shared its range with several less-archaic carnivores. This primitive predator really stands out in films and in museums, which helps explain the odd dino’s enduring popularity.

1. Ceratosaurus Had an Armored Backside.

A row of bony plates called osteoderms ran down the animal’s spine. They probably didn’t offer much defense, but they sure helped Ceratosaurus score some major style points! 

2. It Might Have had Semi-Aquatic Habits.

Like modern gators, Ceratosaurus came with a strong, broad, and flexible tail—and the animal’s teeth are sometimes found scattered near lungfish skeletons. So was it amphibious? According to paleontologist Robert Bakker, the idea has merit. He’s even envisioned Ceratosaurus as a wannabe crocodile of sorts, stealthily lurking beneath Jurassic rivers. But while this dinosaur was likely a halfway-decent swimmer, many feel that Bakker’s very speculative hypothesis can’t keep its head above the water.   

3. It’s Been a Movie Star for Over 100 Years.

Audiences watched the bonafide celebrity stalk cavemen in Brute Force (1914), take on Triceratops in One Million Years B.C. (1966), and gag at the sight of Spinosaurus poop in Jurassic Park III (2001).

4. Some Argue that This Creature Directly Competed with the Better-Known Allosaurus.

Both carnivores stalked Utah and Colorado 150 million years ago, and both had nasty jaws designed for slicing (as opposed to crushing bone and all that fun stuff). Because similar bites often mean similar diets, maybe these two titans hunted the same game. Or they might have found separate niches and steered clear of each other—Allosaurus did have proportionately-smaller teeth, after all. Regardless, the late Jurassic was clearly a tough time to be an herbivore.    

5. Scientists Still Aren’t Sure About What Ceratosaurus Did With its Dynamic Nasal Horn.

In 1920, an American geologist named Charles Whitney Gilmore wrote that Ceratosaurus’ horn “formed a useful weapon for offense and defense.” Nowadays, however, this thing’s function no longer seems quite so clear-cut.  Thin and probably on the fragile side, most 21st-century specialists hold that Ceratosaurus’ best-known feature was better-suited for display than combat.

6. It Featured Unusually Long Teeth.

One specimen manages to look just as scary with its mouth shut. This dino’s upper teeth are so long that—when the creature’s maw assumes a “closed” position—they extend below the lower jaw!

7. Ceratosaurus was Relatively Rare

Allosaurus seems to have been far more common than Ceratosaurus. The latter, bumpy-snouted predator is only known from a relative handful of skeletons. Meanwhile, very few dinos are as well-represented by the fossil record as Allosaurus: A single quarry contains assorted bones belonging to at least 44 individuals. How many Ceratosaurus specimens has this same site yielded? One.

8. Its Remains Have Been Found on Three Different Continents.

Though frequently cited as a North American creature, Ceratosaurus material has also turned up in Portugal and Tanzania.

9. Size-Wise, Not all Ceratosaurus Were Created Equal.

Ceratosaurus dentisculatus could have really done some damage. While the 18-foot Ceratosaurus nasicornis is, by far, this genus’ most famous species, C. dentisculatus was noticeably longer, with an estimated length of over 23 feet (7 meters)—and it may been twice as massive.

10. Ceratosaurus was Named by One of America’s Greatest Paleontologists.

Othniel Charles Marsh (1832-1899) also introduced the world to such prehistoric icons as Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Allosaurus, Diplodocus, and Apatosaurus. Plus, he lobbied for Native American rights, regularly corresponded with Charles Darwin, and was among the first to suggest that present-day birds evolved from dinosaurs. 

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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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