10 Facts About Camarasaurus

If you’re reading this, odds are you already know all about last week’s big Brontosaurus story. The dino’s famous name had been deemed scientifically illegitimate since 1903, back when Teddy Roosevelt still lived on Pennsylvania Avenue and the World Series was a brand-new spectacle. Still, no demotion could stop Brontosaurus from capturing the public’s imagination—even The Wizard of Oz (1939) mentions it in song. So, when a recent scientific paper argued that the name ought to be reinstated after a 112-year exile, fossil fans jumped for joy.

Today’s featured dinosaur played a minor role in the notorious and confusing Brontosaurus saga. Please don’t hold that against it.

1. For a Long-Necked Dino, Camarasaurus Bones Are Unusually Common.

Remember Brachiosaurus, the giant leaf-gobbler that made your eyes pop when you first saw Jurassic Park? Although it must have been every bit as majestic in real life, scientists know relatively little about this creature. Brachiosaurus fossils are scarce, and we’ve yet to find a skeleton that isn’t missing significant chunks. Sadly, many other sauropods (“long-necked” dinos) are in the same boat.

Luckily, though, Camarasaurus isn’t one of them. In fact, here in North America, it’s the most commonly-found dinosaur from the late Jurassic period (160-142 million years ago). Paleontologists have recovered numerous adult and juvenile specimens, including a few skeletons that are complete.

2. Its Name Means “Chambered Lizard.”

IJReid, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Camarasaurus’s spine is rife with hollow chambers. In theory, these would have both reduced its weight and connected to a series of air sacs that helped the beastie breathe more efficiently (today, birds use a similar system).

3. A Scavenged Camarasaurus Trio Gave Paleontologists the Chance to Play Jurassic CSI.

Between 1997 and 2004, the remains of three Camarasaurus were excavated from a quarry in northeastern Wyoming. But that’s not the cool part. What’s truly remarkable is the curious “shallow pits” that had been carved into their bones. Very similar calling cards are left by 21st century dermestid beetles, which can pick skulls clean. Given what forensic science knows about these bugs and how their feeding habits slowly alter bones, paleontologists deduced that one particular Camarasaurus died around five weeks before the other two.

4. One of These Things Attended the Texas Centennial Exposition.

Six million people turned up at an unforgettable 1936 expo to join the Lone Star state in celebrating its 100th birthday. Texas received a helping hand from the Smithsonian, which lent out fossil preparators Norman H. Boss and Gilbert F. Stucker. Upon arrival, the dynamic duo spent nearly five months touching up a newfound Camarasaurus skeleton they’d brought along inside protective field jackets. That mounted beauty went on display (along with some lovely paintings) at the Dallas Federal Building before getting shipped back to our nation’s capital.

5. Camarasaurus Had a “Powerful but Inflexible Neck.”

So say dino experts Eberhard Frey and John Martin. Using biomechanical principles, these two analyzed several different sauropods and found that—given the shape of its vertebrae—Camarasaurus had a fairly stiff, muscular neck.

6. It’s No Stranger to Naming Debates.

Wanna name a dinosaur? Make sure nobody’s beaten you to the punch. “Morosaurus lentus” used to be considered a proper dino name, but has since been discarded because we now know that the animal was really just a species of Camarasaurus. On the other hand, another species—Camarasaurus lewisi—looks pretty distinctive. Hence, some say that it deserves a separate genus and should be rebranded “Cathetosaurus lewisi.”

7. A Cryptic Code Was Scribbled Over Some Big Apple Camarasaurus Bones.

Although Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897) was a great scientist, his record-keeping skills left a bit to be desired. He scrawled letters and numbers on some Camarasaurus fossils now stored at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History; each marking corresponded to a set of dig site sketches so that future generations could know exactly where each bone had been found. But Cope later sabotaged his own work when he threw away those all-important documents. A few copies have surfaced since then, but not enough to explain every character.

8. One Early Paleontologist Thought it Gave Birth to Live Young.

Nurse sharks, anacondas, and many other animals develop eggs that never leave their mothers’ bodies. When the big day comes, the young hatch inside the female and emerge from her fully-formed. In 1883, after finding an adult Camarasaurus with a baby nearby, armchair dino expert Othneil Charles Marsh (1831-1899) wondered if the critter had done something similar. Intriguing as this idea might sound, there’s absolutely no evidence for it and, indeed, plenty to the contrary. After all, sauropod nests lined with hard-shelled, unopened eggs aren’t exactly rare.

9. Brontosaurus Was Inaccurately Given a Camarasaurus-Like Skull by Artists & Museum Curators.

On a fateful 1879 expedition, Marsh’s men found a headless new dinosaur in the rock beds of Wyoming. This was a massive skeleton; the animal, when alive, must have shaken the ground with every step. So, Marsh named it “Brontosaurus” or “thunder lizard.” While future finds would later prove him wrong, Marsh believed that his new monster was closely akin to Camarasaurus. Therefore, he reasoned, Brontosaurus’ missing noggin must’ve been blunt and Camarasaurus-esque.

We’ve since learned that members of the group to which Brontosaurus belongs have narrow, vaguely horse-shaped skulls. But before that revelation occurred, museums spent several decades reconstructing it with stand-in heads modeled after Camarasaurus.  

10. There’s a Camarasaurus Resting In Situ at Dinosaur National Monument.

If you’re even remotely interested in dinosaurs, fossil-hunting, or the history of life, hit the road and check this place out. Here, a roofed exhibit hall surrounds an impressive rock face containing roughly 1500 undisturbed Jurassic bones, including a great Camarasaurus head and neck. Needless to say, seeing this 149-million-year-old cemetery in person is an experience you’ll never forget. 

Creative Beasts
These Scientifically Accurate Dinosaur Toys Are Ready to Rule Your Desk
Creative Beasts
Creative Beasts

In May 2016, we told you about Beasts of the Mesozoic, a line of Kickstarter-backed dinosaur toys that would reflect the feathery truth about the mighty beasts and provide an alternative to the Hollywood-enhanced glamour of the Jurassic Park franchise.

Then, absolutely nothing happened. Having being fully funded on the crowd-sourced platform, Beasts seemed to be mired in production issues. Now, nearly two years after designer David Silva announced the project, the toys are finally ready to hit shelves.

A Beasts of the Mesozoic action figure in retail packaging
Creative Beasts

The Beasts line will initially consist of 11 figures due to ship this month, with six more expected to arrive in May. Included in the first wave are Velociraptor mongoliensis, Atrociraptor marshalli, Balaur bondoc, Dromaeosaurus albertensis, Zhenyuanlong suni, Pyroraptor olympus, Linheraptor exquisitus, Velociraptor osmolskae (red), FC (Fan’s Choice) Dromaeosaurus albertensis, FC Pyroraptor olympus, and FC Zhenyuanlong suni.

In his updates, Silva said the delay was due in large part to how quickly the scope of the line grew. At the time the campaign started, he was planning on just three figures that would ship by May 2017. By the end, he had 25 items, including accessory packs.

You can pre-order the first wave ($35 to $40 each) at BackerKit.

Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows

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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