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.

Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets

Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]


More from mental floss studios