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10 Resilient Facts About Pachyrhinosaurus

Rodney, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Pachyrhinosaurus sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite being a so-called “horned” dinosaur, there were few actual horns on its blunt, rugged skull. Still, there’s an undeniable beauty to this distinctive creature.

1. Those Facial Lumps are Called “Bosses.”

A huge, flattened bulge rests above Pachyrhinosaurus’ nose, while two smaller ones are situated over its eyes. On a fully grown animal, the nasal boss would have been covered by a thick sheath and some padding.  

2. We’ve Found Three Species so Far.

Pachyrhinosaurus canadensis was named in 1950, Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai in 2008, and Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum in 2012. You might assume that each species looked a lot like the other two, and you’d be right. Still, there are subtle differences that help scientists tell them apart. For instance, the nose boss of P. canadensis was flat and rounded, while P. perotorum's had a domed top. Meanwhile, there were some cool “unicorn horns” jetting out from the center of P. lakustai’s frill (just behind its eyes).

3. It Lived in Alaska and Alberta.

Pachyrhinosaurus presided over an unusually large range. Mass graveyards containing whole herds have been found in Canada’s westernmost prairie province. Alaska is the home state of P. perotorum—which, oddly enough, is named after billionaire and ex-presidential candidate Ross Perot, who hails from Texas. 

4. Pachyrhinosaurus was First Discovered By a Member of America’s Greatest Fossil-Hunting Family.

It all started with Charles Hazelius Sternberg (1850-1943), a Reverend’s son whose paleontological career would stretch from the gilded age to the Great Depression. His boys—George F., Charles M., and Levi—followed in their father’s footsteps by getting involved with the science he loved. Pachyrhinosaurus is just one of the dinosaurs brought to light by middle son Charles M., who also named heavily-armored Edmontonia.

5. You’ll Sometimes See Pachyrhinosaurus Drawn With Absurdly Large Horns.

The dino’s poor cousins would have felt painfully insecure if retro paintings and models like this one reflected reality. Back in the '70s, a few specialists wondered if there was more to Pachyrhinosaurus bosses than meets the eye. Perhaps these knobs formed the base of thick, ginormous horns—and maybe those weapons had simply broken off post-mortem. After all, fossilization can be a pretty brutal process. But while field workers have recovered numerous Pachyrhinosaurus skulls, none has included badass super horns.

6. Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie (2013) Turned Pachyrhinosaurus into an Up-And-Coming Star.

Though its big screen debut came in Disney’s Dinosaur (2000), this recent family film was the first to give Pachyrhinosaurus top-billing treatment. Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie focuses on a young male named “Patchi,” his brother “Scowler,” and their herd.

7. These Guys Might have Flanked Each Other in Combat.

Many specimens not only feature broken ribs, but partially-healed ones as well. Obviously, there was some significant roughhousing afoot. Paleontologists speculate that during duels with same-species rivals, a Pachyrhinosaurus would ram its head into the opponent’s side.

8. According to One Estimate, Juveniles Reached Sexual Maturity at Around 9 Years of Age.

After surveying growth bands in Pachyrhinosaurus femurs, dino development experts Gregory M. Erickson and Patrick S. Druckenmiller concluded that it took roughly nine years for an individual to reach mating age. At that point, he or she would really wanna hurry up and start dating—a scant decade later, the animal could expect to die of natural causes.

9. Pachyrhinosaurus May Have Been Migratory.

Did Pachyrhinosaurus herds embark upon harsh, seasonal journeys—possibly from Alaska to southern Alberta and back? Perhaps. University of Alberta professor Phillip Currie has opined that, if this kind of mass exodus really did happen, the great herbivore likely followed coastal plains each way. Then again, Pachyrhinosaurus could have also stayed put year-round—the genus's presence in both locales doesn’t prove anything beyond its ability to succeed throughout a very wide geographic area.

10. The 2010 Arctic Winter Games Used Pachyrhinosaurus as Their Official Mascot.

Held in various spots around Canada and Alaska, this recurring competition has been helping far-north athletes show off their skills since 1970.  In 2010, these games came to Grand Prairie, Alberta, a city which rests on the historic Wapiti River. Since a Pachyrhinosaurus bone bed also resides near that waterway, an anthropomorphic version of the dino (named “Aluk”) assumed mascot duties. “The prominence of similar bone beds through North America’s higher latitudes,” said P.R. director Joanne Balance, “makes [Pachyrhinosaurus] a fabulous ambassador that speaks not only to the history of our region, but brings to light a common thread between some of the Northern regions participating in the Arctic Winter Games.” 

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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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