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10 Resilient Facts About Pachyrhinosaurus

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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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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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Courtesy the University of Colorado Boulder
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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