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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.

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
iStock
iStock

Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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