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10 Awesome Facts About Anchisaurus

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Accidental discoveries are the lifeblood of science. We can all thank New England metalworkers and a controlled explosion for bringing today’s dino to light. Granted, dozens of its bones were banged up in the process, but what survived is awesome.   

1. Anchisaurus Had to Be Re-Named Twice.

Scientific names are like parking spaces: the good ones are often taken. In 1865, geologist Edward Hitchcock dubbed this then-new dinosaur “Megadactylus.” However, since another animal already went by that name, a colleague later rechristened it “Amphisaurus”—which was also taken. Ultimately, the third try proved to be the charm. 

2. Anchisaurus May Have Switched Between Standing on Two Legs and Four.

Odds are Anchisaurus could assume both positions, though it probably saved sprinting for its hind limbs once danger struck. 

3. It Had a Ferocious Claw on Each Hand.

Whether they evolved to help grasp tree limbs, rip open logs, or fight off predators, these wicked things were no doubt, er, handy.

4. Anchisaurus Used to be Thought of As a Bipedal Flesh-Eater.

Of course, claws can also be useful if your dinner needs disemboweling.  As recently as the 1950s, at least a few paleontologists believed this animal primarily ate meat, including Richard Swan Lull of Yale. In his mind, Anchisaurus was “an alert, active dinosaur preying upon the smaller vertebrates of his generation, as the powerful claws and well-developed teeth imply.” Maybe not so much. Most scientists consider it an herbivore today.

5. It Was First Found During a Massachusetts Blasting Operation.

In 1855, the historic Springfield armory conducted some on-site explosives work. In the aftermath of blasts that had been set off around a foraging facility, mysterious bones emerged. Unfortunately, many were demolished and many more taken home by workers before an expert was notified. Superintendent William Smith eventually contacted Hitchcock, sending the scientist as much (battered) material as he could find.  

6. Apparently, We’ve Been Lowballing its Age.  

Many books cite Anchisaurus as an animal that lived around 190 million years ago. Yet, according to new dating data collected in 2013, the northeastern rocks in which it’s been found are anywhere from 201.6 to 200.9 million years old. Looks like a few rewrites are in order. 

7. Anchisaurus-like Footprints Have Appeared in Nova Scotia.

These tracks are from the right period in time and nicely match up with Anchisaurus’ feet, but there’s no way to be 100 percent sure which prehistoric critter left a particular print.

8. Anchisaurus Had a Few Advanced Features.

Despite being a primitive sauropodomorph (or “long-necked” dino), Anchisaurus did share certain anatomical traits with later members of the group. For instance, its hands were proportionally short relative to the arm as a whole.

9. Connecticut’s Most Complete Dino Skeleton to Date Belonged to an Anchisaurus.

The Nutmeg State gave the world its first good look at Anchisaurus during the 1880s, when decent specimens started emerging near Manchester. One was especially impressive

10. Anchisaurus May Have Been Built Into a Bridge.

Those Manchester dinos came from a quarry which broke down Jurassic stone into large blocks that could be sold off for building purposes. On October 20, 1884, fossils were discovered inside several of these, and before long, Connecticut’s most esteemed paleontologist took notice. Yale professor Othniel Charles Marsh (1832–1899) got his hands on a block which contained a mid-sized dinosaur’s rear end. At first, he believed that this was a species of Anchisaurus, but subsequently changed his mind and named the creature "Ammosaurus." Several modern experts, however, think Marsh got it right the first time—which would render "Ammosaurus" invalid.   

So what happened to the other half of that skeleton? In the 1960s, another famed fossil hunter spent two years looking for it. Paleontologist John Ostrom learned the block had been purchased by bridge builders who used it in a local project. Ostrom exhaustively surveyed more than 60 bridges throughout the region and concluded “with 95 percent certainty” that the bones were trapped inside an overpass near Hop Brook.  

By 1969, that old bridge was marked for demolition. Hearing this, Ostrom persuaded the highway department to let his crew examine the structure beforehand. A handful of "Ammosaurus”/Anchisaurus bones were recovered, but we still don’t know if they actually came from the same individual. Still, it makes you wonder how many other dinosaurs are lodged in manmade structures. 

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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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