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10 Hooked Facts About Baryonyx

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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Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows
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Ticks plagued the dinosaurs, too, as evidenced by a 99-million-year old parasite preserved inside a hunk of ancient amber. Entomologists who examined the Cretaceous period fossil noticed that the tiny arachnid was latched to a dinosaur feather—the first evidence that the bloodsuckers dined on dinos, according to The New York Times. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ticks are one of the most common blood-feeding parasites. But experts didn’t know what they ate in prehistoric times, as parasites and their hosts are rarely found together in the fossil record. Scientists assumed they chowed down on early amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, according to NPR. They didn’t have hard evidence until study co-author David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of History, and his colleagues spotted the tick while perusing a private collection of Myanmar amber.

A 99-million-year-old tick encased in amber, grasping a dinosaur feather.
Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick entangled in a feather. a Photograph of the Burmese amber piece (Bu JZC-F18) showing a semicomplete pennaceous feather. Scale bar, 5 mm. b Detail of the nymphal tick in dorsal view and barbs (inset in a). Scale bar, 1 mm. c Detail of the tick’s capitulum (mouthparts), showing palpi and hypostome with teeth (arrow). Scale bar, 0.1 mm. d Detail of a barb. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. e Drawing of the tick in dorsal view indicating the point of entanglement. Scale bar, 0.2 mm. f Detached barbule pennulum showing hooklets on one of its sides (arrow in a indicates its location but in the opposite side of the amber piece). Scale bar, 0.2 mm
Peñalver et al., Nature Communications

The tick is a nymph, meaning it was in the second stage of its short three-stage life cycle when it died. The dinosaur it fed on was a “nanoraptor,” or a tiny dino that was roughly the size of a hummingbird, Grimaldi told The Times. These creatures lived in tree nests, and sometimes met a sticky end after tumbling from their perches into hunks of gooey resin. But just because the nanoraptor lived in a nest didn’t mean it was a bird: Molecular dating pinpointed the specimen as being at least 25 million years older than modern-day avians.

In addition to ticks, dinosaurs likely also had to deal with another nest pest: skin beetles. Grimaldi’s team located several additional preserved ticks, and two were covered in the insect’s fine hairs. Skin beetles—which are still around today—are scavengers that live in aerial bird homes and consume molted feathers.

“These findings shed light on early tick evolution and ecology, and provide insights into the parasitic relationship between ticks and ancient relatives of birds, which persists today for modern birds,” researchers concluded in a news release.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Clever Adaptations That Helped Some Animals Become Gigantic
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Imagine a world in which eagle-sized dragonflies buzzed through the air and millipedes as long as kayaks scuttled across Earth. "Ick"-factor aside for bug haters, these creatures aren't the product of a Michael Crichton fever dream. In fact, they actually existed around 300 million years ago, as MinuteEarth host Kate Yoshida explains.

How did the prehistoric ancestors of today’s itty-bitty insects get so huge? Oxygen, and lots of it. Bugs "breathe by sponging up air through their exoskeletons, and the available oxygen can only diffuse so far before getting used up," Yoshida explains. And when an atmospheric spike in the colorless gas occurred, this allowed the critters' bodies to expand to unprecedented dimensions and weights.

But that's just one of the clever adaptations that allowed some creatures to grow enormous. Learn more about these adaptations—including the ingenious evolutionary development that helped the biggest dinosaurs to haul their cumbersome bodies around, and the pair of features that boosted blue whales to triple their size, becoming the largest animals ever on Earth—by watching MinuteEarth's video below.

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