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10 Hip Facts About Hypsilophodon

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Hypsilophodon was discovered all the way back in 1849, and our outlook on this little animal has changed quite a bit since then.

1. Scientists Used to Think that Hypsilophodon was an Avid Tree-Climber.

When Victorian paleontologists started looking over the creature, many mistakenly assumed that one toe on each foot opposed the others. As anyone who’s ever buttoned a shirt can attest, grasping things gets a lot easier when you’ve got opposable digits to work with. So Hypsilophodon was painted as a reptilian tree-fancier, scurrying up the nearest trunk for safety whenever predators came around.  

But, as later research would reveal, Hypsilophodon’s toes weren’t oriented that way at all. Instead of scaling timber, this dinosaur was clearly built for high-speed sprints on solid ground.

2. Specialized Bones Shaded its Eyes.

Thin, pointy palpebral bones jetted out over the top half of its eyes, forming bars that functioned like a baseball cap’s bill—and gave it a fierce, hawk-like look to boot.

3. Hypsilophodon is Known Exclusively From an Island off the Coast of England.

Bits and pieces of almost 100 individuals have been recovered on the Isle of Wight. They’ve got plenty of company: Over 20 different dinosaur species once lived there. 

4. Hypsilophodon Most Likely Had Dino-Cheeks.

Cheeks aren’t just for pinches—they’re also a great way to keep food from falling out of your mouth. Not all dinosaurs bothered with chewing, but Hypsilophodon’s teeth sliced up its meals to some extent before the animal swallowed. Given this fact and the shape of its skull and jaws, there’s ample reason to conclude that Hypsilophodon had cheek-like structures.

5. An Entire Herd Might Have Been Ensnared by Quicksand.

Scientists have found a ton of Hypsilophodon bones in one area on the southwestern coast of the Isle of Wight. Here, several animals died in close proximity, and because the surrounding sediment shows traces of water-logging, it's likely the remains belonged to a Hypsilophodon herd that died together via quicksand.

6. Originally, This Herbivore Was Mistaken for a Juvenile Iguanodon.

Sir Richard Owen—who, incidentally, coined the word “dinosaur”—thought Hypsilophodon represented nothing more than the sub-adult version of a very different dinosaur. Iguanodon was a hefty, thumb-spiked plant-eater which is, in fact, only distantly related to the smaller animal.

7. Seeds Might Have been One of Hypsilophodon’s Favorite Foods.

In its heyday 125 million years ago, cycads—cone-like seed plants—were wildly successful. A paper released in 2010 argued that Hypsilophodon's beak would have been well-equipped for yanking seeds from cycad cones, and that its front teeth could hypothetically strip away their protective outer layers so the broader back teeth could mash the seeds up.

8. Contrary to What You Might See in Older Paintings, Hypsilophodon Lacked Body Armor.

In 1874, surgeon and amateur paleontologist John Hulke found what he believed to be bony blobs of armor-plating on the backs of a few Hypsilophodon skeletons. Further inspection has proven that what he’d actually been looking at were plates of cartilaginous tissue situated between its ribs. On a live animal, this material would have have been submerged under the skin and of little to no defensive value.

9. Hypsilophodon’s Ribs Could Handle Strenuous Workouts.

What exactly was that tissue for, anyway? According to Dr. Richard Butler of the University of Birmingham, “the plates might have functioned to support the ribcage during fast running.” If true, the tissue would have prevented Hypsilophodon’s ribs from colliding and, probably, given its lungs more breathing room (literally) whenever the dinosaur felt a need for speed.

10. It Was Discovered by a Fossil-Loving Reverend.

William Fox (1813-1881) had a passion for digging dinosaurs that rivaled his love of ministry. According to his own wife, it was “always bones first and the parish next” for the clergyman. Fox fell in love with Wight and its treasures, writing, “I cannot leave this place while I have any money left to live on, I take such deep [joy] in hunting for old dragons.” Later on, two of the “dragons” that the dedicated amateur brought to light would be named in his honor, namely the spike-covered Polacanthus foxii and speedy Hypsilophodon foxii

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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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