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10 Fun Facts About Corythosaurus

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Daderot via Wikimedia Commons // CC0

You might not have known this week’s dino by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen it before. From Philly to Ontario to western Kansas, Corythosaurus appears in dozens of museums across North America. Does your hometown have one on display? Let us know in the comments section.

1. Corythosaurus Had a Twiggy Diet.   

Corythosaurus is known exclusively from Alberta, where excellent skeletons have cropped up in droves over the past hundred-plus years. An especially awesome individual even has a gut filled with pulverized plant fossils, which reveal that the herbivore gobbled up prehistoric twigs.

2. Scientists Used to Think That Its Feet Were Webbed.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Impressions of fleshy pads can be seen around some Corythosaurus feet. Today, we now know that these helped support its massive weight on dry land, but back in the 1910s, they were believed to serve an aquatic function. At first, paleontologists mistook them for membranous webs situated between the toes and fingers. Hence, early drawings (like the one above) wrongly cast Corythosaurus as a duck-like, river-going doggie paddler.   

3. There’s a Link Between Corythosaurus and Ancient Greek Battle Gear.

When fossil hunter Barnum Brown (who also discovered T. rex) named this dinosaur in 1914, he felt that its circular head crest looked a lot like the curved helmets worn 2700 years ago by soldiers of Corinth—so he dubbed it Corythosaurus, meaning “Corinthian helmet lizard.”

4. It May Have Liked Dawn and Dusk.

If you’re a mammal and you know it, roll your eyes. Like all members of this particular class, your sight organs don’t contain buried bony circles called “sclerotic rings.” These can, however, be found in many reptiles, birds, and—yes—dinosaurs. So what’s their function? Though experts aren’t 100 percent sure, they probably play a role in supporting the pupil. But not all pupils are created equal: Nocturnal creatures tend to have proportionally larger ones than diurnal animals.

By comparing the sclerotic rings of prehistoric and modern creatures, paleontologists Lars Schmitz and Ryosuke Motani hope to learn when certain dinosaurs might have been active. The pair’s research suggests that Velociraptor was a night owl, Archaeopteryx enjoyed broad daylight, and Corythosaurus preferred going about its business at sunrise and sunset.

5. NYC’s American Museum of Natural History has Two Skeletons Preserved in Their “Death Poses.”

Mounted skeletons are great, but sometimes it’s best to present your fossils as you found them. At this Manhattan landmark, visitors can gaze upon two complete Corythosaurus specimens, both in the same position they held while still in the ground. Neat, huh?

6. Those Crests Started to Form During Adolescence.

By comparing multiple juvenile and fully grown Corythosaurus, a 2013 survey found that an individual’s crest didn’t begin development until the dinosaur’s skull had reached fifty percent of its final length.

7. We Know a Lot About What its Hide Looked Like.  

Certain Corythosaurus skeletons—including one of those AMNH guys we mentioned earlier—came with extensive skin impressions. This tells us that the scales on this animal’s inner thighs were smaller than the ones spread over its sides, which were in turn dwarfed by those coating the tail tip. Shape-wise, most Corythosaurus scales were polygon-esque.

8. Dinos Like Corythosaurus Were Real Endurance Runners.

When some hungry tyrannosaur comes charging, what’s a poor, “duck-billed” dinosaur to do? Last year, Scott Persons of the University of Alberta took a good whack at this question. His conclusions lend a bit of credence to Aesop’s whole “slow-and-steady-wins-the-race” bit.

It turns out that Corythosaurus and its kin (collectively called hadrosaurs) took much shorter strides than did tyrannosaurids like T. rex. This means that, in a brief chase, the predators would have easily caught their hapless victims. But here’s the trade-off: They would also have gotten tired sooner. So what would happen if the pursuit raged on over a vast distance? In this situation, since hadrosaurs expended less energy per step, the plant-eaters could keep going and going like giant Energizer Bunnies long after their attackers got pooped.     

9. It Was Quite Adept at Hearing Deep Noises.

According to a 2008 CT scan performed by Ohio University, Corythosaurus had a "delicate inner ear" that allowed it to “hear low-frequency” sounds. This correlates with the leading hypothesis about what the animal did with its headgear: Hollow chambers that connected directly to the nasal passages are present inside the crests of Corythosaurus and its closest cousins. Perhaps these apparatuses acted like giant resonating chambers, emitting plangent cries to each other that might travel for miles.

10. One Corythosaurus Species Was Named After an Incredibly Dangerous Bird.

Do yourself a favor: Never mess with cassowaries. Though they’re usually on the passive side, these 130-pound avians can leap almost seven feet off the ground, hit a dizzying top speed of 31 mph, slash through their enemies with blade-like, 4-inch toe claws, and—unsurprisingly—kill people.

Because it rocks a similar-looking bulge atop its noggin, the best-known Corythosaurus species was christened Corythosaurus casuarius in honor of the southern cassowary’s scientific name, Casuarius casuarius. Apart from nomenclature, these two creatures might also have something else in common. Give a listen to this incredible clip:

That otherworldly bellow is just the tip of the iceberg: Cassowaries emit earth’s lowest documented bird call. A few biologists think their odd-looking crests help generate these booming, long-range vocalizations. Talk about déjà vu…  

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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