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10 Hooked Facts About Baryonyx

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Long-snouted Baryonyx is a rock star in Britain, though you won't see one palling around with Ringo anytime soon…

1. It Was Discovered by a Plumber.

When he wasn’t tinkering with pipes, U.K. native William Walker avidly hunted fossils. In 1983, he found a strange-looking rock nestled in an unassuming clay pit—and when he cracked it open, he found a huge claw.

Walker’s son-in-law took the bone to specialists at London’s Natural History Museum, where they ascertained that it was part of some unidentified dino predator. An eager team then descended on Walker’s pit, which yielded several new bones, including vertebrae, limb elements, and a slender snout.

2. Baryonyx’s Name Means “Heavy Claw.”

Like many carnivorous dinosaurs, Baryonyx had three visible claws on each hand. The claws of one pair, however, measured around 13 inches long apiece—large enough to visibly dwarf the others.   

3. This Was the First Fish-Eating Dino Ever Found.

Arguably the coolest thing about Walker’s Baryonyx is its last meal, a feast that included a prehistoric fish called Lepidotes.

4. … But Baryonyx Clearly Didn’t Eat Sushi 24/7.

Nobu Tamura, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

Chunks of Iguanodon—a dinosaurian herbivore—were also found in the dino's stomach. We’ll never know if the Baryonyx killed this animal or scavenged its corpse—and because most modern carnivores are pretty opportunistic, either scenario is possible.

5. Its Jaws Could Take a Lot of Stress.

A digital test run in 2013 concluded that Baryonyx’s snout was better at holding up against bending or twisting than those of some present-day crocodilians known as gharials.

6. Baryonyx’s Relatives Have Been Unearthed on Five Different Continents.

Sail-backed Spinosaurus prowled northern Africa and the amusingly-named Irritator challengeri wandered around Brazil. Asia and Australia are also home to similar critters.  

7. Baryonyx Might Absorb a Close Relative.

Is Niger’s Suchomimus tenerensis just a really big species of Baryonyx? These days, most experts don’t think so, but the question has been debated in academic circles. Suchomimus comes with a modest sail on its back, something Baryonyx lacks. Also, there are some small differences in the skull. Still, the former dino still might end up getting rebranded “Baryonyx tenerensis” someday, going the way of “Brontosaurus.”

8. It’s Now Known to Have Lived in Spain.

A partial rib and hand from this country were attributed to Baryonyx in the late ‘90s.

9. We Might Have Known About Baryonyx Before it Was Officially Discovered.

In keeping with its love of fish, Baryonyx had very distinctive teeth designed for puncturing their slippery hides. Sometime in the 1820s, intriguingly-similar chompers started coming to light. These were hastily identified as crocodile teeth and given the name Suchosaurus.  Given what scientists now know, it’s possible that Suchosaurus and Baryonyx are truly one and the same.

10. Baryonyx Helped Change the Way We Look at the Larger and More Famous Spinosaurus.

Before Baryonyx came along, few meat-eating dinos were thought to have had narrow skulls. Accordingly, before 1983, specialists usually assumed that the noggin of Spinosaurus aegypticus (an animal which rivaled T. rex in size) was boxy & rounded. After all, though a Spinosaurus lower jaw bone had been excavated in 1915, nobody knew what the rest of its cranium looked like.

But Baryonyx’s unveiling shattered our preconceptions. This critter bore some close anatomical parallels with what little Spinosaurus material the scientific community had at its disposal. Therefore, scientists finally realized that, even without its massive finback sail, Spinosaurus was a whole lot weirder than your typical dino. And it’s been getting weirder ever since.

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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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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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