10 Swift Facts About Eoraptor

One of the earliest known dinosaurs, this meek little fellow poses far more questions than it answers.  

1. It’s Got an Evocative Name.

Eoraptor means “dawn plunderer,” a reference to its status as an animal that lived at or near the very “dawn” of the dinosaurs. Its full scientific name is Eoraptor lunensis. Roughly translated, that second word means “of the moon.” This is an homage to the Argentinian park in which Eoraptor's remains were first found. A sprawling, otherworldly place, the area is popularly called Valle de la Luna or Valley of the Moon.

2. Eoraptor Was Discovered on a Joint American-Argentinian Expedition.

On October 3, 1991, Eoraptor lunensis came to light. The big moment was made possible by American paleontologist Paul Sereno and Alfretto Monetta of the National University of San Juan. Together, they led an international team through the Andes foothills—and promptly went five weeks without finding anything significant. Happily, when all hope seemed lost, Argentinian student Ricardo Martinez saved the day. Fortune was with him when he spotted a conspicuous tooth, which just so happened to come with a skull and a reasonably-complete skeleton.

3. Eoraptor Was Most Likely an Omnivore.

Rooted in its mouth was a combination of blade-like and leaf-shaped teeth. Two hundred and thirty million years ago, the arrangement would have allowed Eoraptor to eat everything from green foliage to small, passing critters.

4. Although Eoraptor had Five Fingers on Each Hand, Two Were Probably Useless.

Three clawed, grasping digits are present at the end of each arm. While these no doubt helped Eoraptor gather food, the same can’t be said about its other fingers, which were stubby and clawless.

5. Some Scientists Think That We’ve Only Found Juvenile Eoraptor Specimens So Far.

Eoraptor eye sockets look almost disproportionately big. This is a trait we often associate with young, still-growing animals—including humans. Furthermore, a few specimens contain skull bones which aren’t fully fused together. Hence, a few experts conclude that all (or most) of the Eoraptor material we’ve yet uncovered came from immature animals.

6. A Few Other Primitive Dinos Shared its Habitat.

Herrerasaurus, Eoraptor’s neighbor/potential predator, was around 12 feet long and had a rather rectangular skull. Their turf (in modern-day South America) was also home to the nimble “dawn runnerEodromaeus, which chased down small game on its lanky hind limbs. More about that guy later…

7. For its Time, Eoraptor Had an Unusual Neck.

In Eoraptor’s day, non-dinosaurian reptiles ran the show. Huge, quadrupedal predators called rauisuchians stalked the landscape. Crocodile-like phytosaurs basked on riverbanks. And the beaked, armor-plated aetosaurs spent their days digging up roots. Amidst such company, earth’s first dinos looked rather diminutive. Still, a few anatomical features helped them stand out anyway. For instance, as paleontologist Donald Henderson notes, basal dinosaurs “all had necks that were noticeably longer than those of [related reptiles] from the same period.”

8. Scientists Have Long Debated Eoraptor’s Placement on the Dino Family Tree ...

Since its discovery in the early '90s, paleontologists have been arguing about its evolutionary relationships. Some say that Eoraptor should be thought of as a very early theropod, or “meat-eating dinosaur” (think T. rex or Velociraptor). Others, meanwhile, lump it with the sauropodomorpha, a gang that includes long-necked giants like Jurassic Park’s Brachiosaurus. Together, both groups form an order of dinosaurs called the saurischia. So, perhaps Eoraptor is just a really early saurischian, one that emerged before the theropods and sauropodomorphs split apart.

9. … But, Hopefully, a New-ish Carnivore Will Help Clear Everything Up.

Cross your fingers, everybody! When Eodromaeus was discovered in 2011, the little beast convinced many dino classification buffs that Eoraptor rightly and truly belonged to the sauropdomorph crew. As you’ll recall, these two lived at the same place and at the same time. But while Eoraptor’s family ties are frustratingly ambiguous, no one can doubt sharp-toothed Eodromaeus’ credentials as a card-carrying theropod.

Eodromaeus gives us the earliest picture of this predatory line,” says Sereno. Previously, he—like many—believed Eoraptor deserved that distinction. Eodromaeus changed his mind. “Eoraptor was incorrectly placed at the base of the theropod tree,” Sereno now claims. Today, the scientist holds that it was a sauropodomorph all along. After all, among other things, it did have those plant-slicing chompers (unlike Eodromaeus).

10. The Man Who Named Eoraptor Has an Impressive Fossil-Hunting Resume.

None other than Sereno himself coined the name back in 1993. Since then, he’s spearheaded numerous expeditions throughout Asia and Africa—one of his teams has even extracted 100 tons of dinosaur fossils from the Sahara desert. Brand-new species he’s had a hand in discovering include the wrinkle-faced carnivore Rugops primus, and the sizable sauropod Jobaria tiguidensis. On a random note, he was also named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1997.


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Roadside Bear Statue in Wales is So Lifelike That Safety Officials Want It Removed
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Wooden bear statue.

There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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