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10 Hip Facts About Hypsilophodon

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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Prehistoric Ticks Once Drank Dinosaur Blood, Fossil Evidence Shows
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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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The Clever Adaptations That Helped Some Animals Become Gigantic
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Imagine a world in which eagle-sized dragonflies buzzed through the air and millipedes as long as kayaks scuttled across Earth. "Ick"-factor aside for bug haters, these creatures aren't the product of a Michael Crichton fever dream. In fact, they actually existed around 300 million years ago, as MinuteEarth host Kate Yoshida explains.

How did the prehistoric ancestors of today’s itty-bitty insects get so huge? Oxygen, and lots of it. Bugs "breathe by sponging up air through their exoskeletons, and the available oxygen can only diffuse so far before getting used up," Yoshida explains. And when an atmospheric spike in the colorless gas occurred, this allowed the critters' bodies to expand to unprecedented dimensions and weights.

But that's just one of the clever adaptations that allowed some creatures to grow enormous. Learn more about these adaptations—including the ingenious evolutionary development that helped the biggest dinosaurs to haul their cumbersome bodies around, and the pair of features that boosted blue whales to triple their size, becoming the largest animals ever on Earth—by watching MinuteEarth's video below.

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