10 Fearsome Facts About Utahraptor

During the Jurassic Park-crazed early ‘90s, Utahraptor became a media darling. Now, more than 20 years later, some great new finds just might push this predator back into the limelight.

1. It Was One of the World’s Largest “Raptors.”

Scientists call Velociraptor, Microraptor, and their kin “dromaeosaurs” (the unofficial raptor nickname is way cooler, though). At around 18 feet long, Utahraptor could have easily been the biggest of the bunch. However, Asia’s impressive Achillobator giganticus might eventually give it a run for its money—if some more complete skeletons emerge.  

2. Walking With Dinosaurs (1999) Put Utahraptor on the Wrong Continent.

During an epic scene from this now-classic miniseries, a Utahraptor pack goes Iguanodon hunting through Europe. As you’ve probably deduced, Utahraptor was originally found well within the U.S. (care to guess where?) and, so far, this animal has left no trace across the pond.

3. The Carnivore Wielded Terrifyingly-Huge Toe Claws.

To Hollywood, brandishing nasty, hook-like claws on each foot is basically the raison d’etre of any dromaeosaur. At their bony cores, Utahraptor’s were 9 inches long apiece, and the nails themselves were probably 15 inches

4. Utahraptor Wasn't Utah's Only "Raptor."

Remains of other dromaeosaurs have turned up in the state, too. For example, in 2012, it was announced that a new, coyote-sized species called Yurgovuchia doellingi had been discovered near what’s now Arches National Park

5. Paleontologist Robert Bakker Made a Clever Utahraptor the Star of His First Novel.

If you’re a self-respecting dino maniac, go check out Raptor Red. Robert Bakker, a fossil-hunting icon, felt that most storytellers unfairly typecast predators as bloodthirsty villains. To counter this, his novel follows an energetic Utahraptor and her family as they fight for survival in a harsh prehistoric wilderness.

6. Utahraptor is Part of An Interesting Evolutionary Trend.

As time went by, truly huge dromaeosaurs like Utahraptor and Achillobator fell out of fashion. As they disappeared, smaller relatives (like North America’s 11-foot Deinonychus) began arising until, by 75 million years ago, few “raptors” were much bigger than a modern turkey.

7. Utahraptor Crashed the Pilot Episode of Primeval: New World.

The creators of this time-traveling drama gave their Utahraptor a fluffy, bird-like coat. While there’s no direct evidence for feathers in this particular genus, the dino’s celebrity cousin Velociraptor is known to have rocked sturdy ones upon its lower arms.

8. It Was Almost Named After Steven Spielberg.

Nobu Tamura, via Wikimedia Commons// CC BY 2.5

Utahraptor fragments had previously been found in 1975, but the beast received neither a name nor any serious attention until better specimens were unearthed well over a decade later. By 1991, paleontologist James I. Kirkland had rounded up some amazing new material and decided to give this forgotten creature the genus name “Utahraptor." But what about its species name? Kirkland considered calling it Utahraptor spielbergi, but ultimately dubbed his dromaeosaur U. ostrommaysorum instead.

9. A Utahraptor Graveyard Awaits Further Study.

To date, our understanding of Utahraptor has been woefully incomplete, since the dinosaur’s known from very few specimens. But that's all about to change: A 16-foot adult, four adolescents, and a three-foot baby were recently found together in the Utah dirt. This haul includes Utahraptor bones we’ve never seen before, and the fact that so many were found in close proximity might even offer clues about dromaeosaur social lives. “We’re really going to have a different view of this guy,” says Kirkland, who’s been overseeing their excavation

10. Several Skeletons Were Temporarily Left In a Parking Lot.

Emily Willoughby via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Last November, Kirkland’s new Utahraptor gang found itself stranded. After the rock slab which contained these skeletons was sealed in a protective plaster jacket and hauled to Salt Lake City, it was stored between vehicles in an outdoor parking lot until more suitable housing was located.

10 Ginormous Facts About Coconut Crabs

Janos/iStock via Getty Images
Janos/iStock via Getty Images

They're huge and antisocial. They will steal your silverware and can rip apart whole coconuts with their claws. Grab a piña colada and enjoy these 10 ginormous facts about the amazing coconut crab.

1. Coconut crabs are colossal.

Native to islands in the Indian and southern Pacific oceans, are truly humongous. They can weigh 9 pounds and measure 3 feet from leg to leg. Coconut crabs are the largest land-living arthropods—the phylum of joint-legged creatures that includes crabs, insects, spiders, and scorpions. Even Charles Darwin was stunned by their “monstrous size.”

But be aware: Occasionally, a viral photo circulates that exaggerates the coconut crab’s size. As biologist Michael Bok explains, the coconut crab in that infamous photo is normal sized, but the trash can is unusually small.

2. Coconut crabs are actually hermit crabs.

Coconut crab
Sandwich, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Where does such a bizarre animal fit in the animal kingdom? Are they lobsters? Tarantulas? Space aliens? In fact, Birgus latro is a kind of hermit crab.

You may have seen smaller hermit crabs on a trip to the beach—or for sale at a pet shop. They take shelter inside abandoned snail shells, carrying them around as portable homes. But if coconut crabs are hermit crabs, then why don’t they live in shells? Well, they do—when they’re young and still small.

3. Coconut crabs quickly outgrow their borrowed shells.

Like other crabs, hatchling coconut crabs begin their lives floating freely at sea. After about a month of eating and growing, they find a snail shell and move in. The little coconut crabs carry this mobile home as they begin to transition to a land-based life.

A seashell is a nice, protected place to live, but it has its drawbacks [PDF]. As a crab gets bigger, its shell gets tighter—like an old pair of shoes on a kid who’s growing fast. The crab needs to find a bigger shell and make a quick switch. And that larger home will be heavier to tote around.

So, after a year or so of inhabiting shells, the coconut crab makes a major lifestyle change. It crawls out and hardens the parts of its body that were once protected by the shell by regrowing layers of calcium-based tissues, a process called recalcification. Without its old home, it’s free of size constraints. Now, unlike other hermit crabs, it can become enormous.

4. Coconut crabs eat coconuts, of course ...

This might seem obvious from the coconut crab’s name. But if you’ve ever tried to crack open a coconut, you know that it’s a steep challenge. In fact, a lengthy scientific debate once raged about whether coconut crabs were really able to open the fruit. It turns out that they’re up to the challenge—but they don’t just pop open their prize and dig in.

Breaking into a coconut is a mighty ordeal even if you’re a heavily armored crustacean the size of a small dog. Coconut crabs first use their claws to scrape away the fibrous coating. This can take hours or days. Finally, they stab into the fruit at a weak point and rip it open.

This diet helps coconut crabs grow large: those with access to coconuts may be twice as massive as those without. But eating the fruit isn’t essential for their survival. So what other items do the largest land-living arthropods shove into their maw?

5. ... but they also eat dead animals, their own body parts, and each other.

As well as the occasional biscuit, as you can see in the video above. (Note: Do not feed biscuits to coconut crabs.) A coconut crab’s diet may include other tropical fruits, fallen plant material, dead and decaying animals, rats, and other crab species. They’ll even eat members of their own kind. In fact, biologist Mark Laidre says they only relatively recently evolved to eat coconuts—a skill unique to modern coconut crabs—which helps them to eat each other less.

They also eat their own discarded body parts. As coconut crabs grow, they periodically molt their tough outer layer (the exoskeleton) and grow a new one. Once they’re done molting, which takes about a month, they gobble up their own exoskeleton.

6. Coconut crabs have an amazing sense of smell ...

Coconut crabs often forage at night. How do they find food when they’re wandering around in the dark? They sniff it out. These animals have a strong, highly efficient [PDF] sense of smell. In fact, a large portion of their brain is devoted to detecting odors.

7. ... which might explain why they're thieves.

Coconut crabs are also known as robber crabs because they snatch silverware and other objects and carry them away. Some people have even advanced the gruesome theory that Amelia Earhart’s remains are missing because coconut crabs hauled them down into their burrows. The thievery might be tied to that incredible sense of smell. Coconut crabs ignore objects that have been washed clean of scents, suggesting that they may only abscond with things that carry a faint whiff of food.

8. Coconut crabs are pretty antisocial.

Adult coconut crabs live alone in crevices or burrows. They aggressively guard their privacy; a crab entering another’s burrow risks becoming a meal.

But that’s not the end of their antisocial behavior. When coconut crabs emerge to feed, they keep their distance from each other. To maintain their personal space, they’ll announce their presence with ritualized claw waving. Laidre sought to find out if coconut crabs ever gathered together to interact (beyond mating or eating each other). The scientist tethered coconut crabs to one spot and watched to see if any others came to visit. They did not.

9. Coconut crabs carry their developing young under their abdomens.

After coconut crabs mate, females attach their eggs to special appendages and carry them under their abdomens. While the young develop inside the eggs, the females hold onto them, sticking near the edge of the sea so that they can periodically moisten the eggs.

But this care ends when the young are ready to hatch. The females release their hatchlings into the ocean waves. Now the tiny, floating babies must fend for themselves—and only a few will survive to return to land.

10. We need to learn a lot more about coconut crabs.

Coconut crab
Anne Sheppard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Coconut crabs are little-studied creatures, and we need to know more about them—not just because they’re incredible and have a lot to tell us about biology, but also because we want to keep them around.

They may be huge and heavily armored, but they can be vulnerable. Coconut crabs take an extremely long time to grow big—they can live more than 40 years—and introduced predators such as rats can harm smaller, younger individuals or those in the process of shedding their exoskeletons (when their bodies are soft). Habitat loss has also caused local declines in some areas. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the coconut crab as data deficient: That is, we don’t know enough about its locations and populations. That’s why we need to study and learn more about these amazing, otherworldly critters.

‘Water’ in Kansas City Woman’s Ear Turned Out to Be a Venomous Brown Recluse Spider

N-sky/iStock via Getty Images
N-sky/iStock via Getty Images

Susie Torres, a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, woke up on Tuesday morning with the distinct feeling that water was lodged in her left ear. She likened it to the swooshing sensation that can often happen after swimming, WDAF-TV reports.

Instead of waiting for the problem to resolve itself, Torres went to the doctor—a decision that might have saved her from some serious pain. The medical assistant was the first to realize something was alarmingly amiss, and immediately called for backup.

“She ran out and said ‘I’m going to get a couple more people,’” Torres told 41 Action News. “She then said, ‘I think you have an insect in there.’” For many people, the thought of having any live insect stuck in an ear would be enough to cue a small- or large-scale freak-out, but Torres stayed calm.

The doctors “had a few tools and worked their magic and got it out,” Torres said. The “it” in question turned out to be a spider—and not just any harmless house spider (which you shouldn’t kill, by the way). It was a venomous brown recluse spider.

“Gross,” Torres told WDAF-TV. “Why, where, what, and how.”

Miraculously, the spider didn’t bite Torres. If it had, she would’ve ended up visiting the doctor with more than general ear discomfort: Brown recluse bites can cause pain, burning, fever, nausea, and purple or blue discoloration of the surrounding skin, according to Healthline.

Torres may have remained admirably level-headed throughout the ordeal, but that doesn’t mean she’s taking it lightly. “I went and put some cotton balls in my ears last night,” she told WDAF-TV. “I’m shaking off my clothes, and I don’t put my purse on the floor. I’m a little more cautious.”

Is this the first time an insect has posted up in the ear of an unsuspecting, innocent human? Absolutely not—here are six more horror stories, featuring a cockroach, a bed bug, and more.

[h/t WDAF-TV]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER