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10 Hardy Facts About Euoplocephalus

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Life in tyrannosaurid country forced Euoplocephalus to develop some extreme safety features. (You know you’re dealing with one tough customer when armor-plated eyelids are involved.) Here are 10 more things you might not know about this fascinating herbivore.

1. Its Terrifying Tail Club was Supported by Bony Tendons.

The far end of Euoplocephalus’ tail was basically a rigid hammer thanks to these rods. In action, powerful muscles near the tail’s more flexible base swung that half around with potentially bone-splintering force.

2. Euoplocephalus Probably Wasn’t the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer.

We’ll never know how intelligent an extinct animal truly was—after all, objectively assessing a live creature’s brain power is nearly impossible. Still, a popular tool called the “encephalization quotient” might help point us in the right direction. By measuring a given creature's brain mass, then dividing that number by whatever brain mass we'd expect an animal of that size to possess, we land at an EQ estimate for the beast in question. 

Supposedly, the brightest critters get the highest numbers. For the record, we self-aggrandizing humans have an average EQ of 5.28 while platypuses and their kin lag far behind at around 0.87. In 1979, paleontologist James Hopson tried to calculate an EQ for Euoplocephalus. His result: 0.52.

3. It Was a Pretty Decent Masticator.

Mammals totally trump reptiles in the chewing department. Since dinosaurs couldn’t move their lower jaws from side to side the way people do, most would have either swallowed foodstuff whole or mashed it up by slamming their teeth together in a straight, vertical motion. Euoplocephalus, on the other hand, had a more complicated technique: By pulling its lower jaw backwards, this dino’s pearly whites could tear apart its vegetarian entrees with ease.

4. Generally, Euoplocephalus Let Its Tail Club Hang Low.

Given the proportions of Euoplocephalus’ tail and hind legs, the tail, when being used for fighting, was likely suspended “just above the ground, neither dragging nor being greatly elevated.” At least, that’s what dino locomotion expert Walter P. Coombs Jr. concluded in 1995

5. Toy Manufacturers Keep Shortchanging Euoplocephalus.

For 56 million years, body armor was all the rage thanks to the ankylosaurid family. One could argue that, scientifically, Euoplocephalus is this brawny gang’s best-known genus due to an abundance of specimens—though many of these probably came from different dinosaurs (see below for more on that).

In a perfect world, Euoplocephalus would be a household name. Unfortunately, its bigger cousin Ankylosaurus keeps hogging the spotlight—there's a Godzilla villain named in its honor, it has an upcoming Jurassic World appearance, and plastic toys clearly based on Euoplocephalus are often mislabeled Ankylosaurus.

6. Euoplocephalus Had Some Weird Neck Armor ...

Several bony plates were fused together in an arch-shaped block that was draped over Euoplocephalus’ neck. Called a cervical half-ring, this odd structure can only be found in ankylosaurs.

7. … And Even Weirder Nasal Passages.

Get a whiff of this, folks: Apparently, inward breaths had to take a circuitous path from the dino’s nostrils to its lungs. Twisted Euoplocephalus nasal passages are so erratic-looking that they’ve even been compared to novelty crazy straws. Perhaps this convoluted mechanism evolved to help cool down the brain. Or maybe Euoplocephalus used its schnoz to produce deep, resonant sounds. Both explanations make sense.

8. Like Many Ankylosaurs, It Had a Really Wide Ribcage.

Generous midsections not only make Euoplocephalus and company really hard to draw, they also hint at a heavy-duty digestive system. Ankylosaur rib cages were almost as wide as their equally outrageous hips, leading paleontologists to suspect that the herbivores’ huge abdominal regions acted as massive fermentation chambers, made to break down the fibrous plants these guys ate. By the way, if this hunch is accurate, suffice it to say that you wouldn’t want to light a match near one. 

9. Euoplocephalus May Have Mated Feline-Style.

How did two enormous animals that were essentially legged tanks copulate? Ankylosaur specialist Ken Carpenter offered a decent hypothesis in his 2000 book Eggs, Nests, and Baby Dinosaurs: A Look at Dinosaur Reproduction. “[A] common method,” he writes, “might be for the female to squat on her forelimbs, raising her rear to the air (sort of like a house cat). In this position, with the tail off to one side, the cloaca is well exposed. The male could mount her from behind to one side and support himself with his forelimbs on her back.” For you visual learners, Carpenter drew a picture for you.

10. It Likely Wasn’t Quite as Successful as We’d Assumed.

Euoplocephalus was once something of an aberration. After its discovery in 1902, the animal went on to become North America’s most commonly-found ankylosaurid by a cozy margin. Moreover, there was only one species within this genus: Euoplocephalus tutus. E. tutus, it was thought, lived from 76 to 67 million years ago, an unusually long span by species standards.

Euoplocephalus was heavily revised in 2013 by then-Ph.D. student Victoria Arbour. As part of her doctoral research, Arbour took a good, hard look at every available specimen and concluded that, in actuality, four separate speciesScolosaurus cutleri, Anodontosaurus lambei, Dyoplosaurus acutosquamens, and Euoplocephalus tutus itself—had all been wrongly lumped together under the name E. tutus. Hence, she argues that good old Euoplocephalus really lasted a scant 2 million years. If you’ve got the time, check out "Who-oplocephalus? Euoplocephalus!" Arbour’s excellent, pun-tastic talk:

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The T. Rex Fossil That Caused a Scientific Controversy
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iStock

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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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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