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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

10 Bony Facts About Amargasaurus

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Many long-necked dinosaurs, or sauropods, had pretty bizarre features: The armor-plating on Saltasaurus, the club-tail on Shunosaurus, and the weird, vacuum-like mouth on Africa’s Nigersaurus. And then you’ve got Amagarasaurus, whose neck has been baffling scientists for decades.

1. Amargasaurus’ Neck Spines Might Have Supported a Pair of Sails.  

Strange, rod-like structures projected upwards from its vertebrae, with the tallest being nearly 2 feet. One formerly-popular idea posited that they were covered by a thin layer of skin, forming two parallel fans. However, if such accessories existed, they would probably have stiffened Amargasaurus’ neck.

2. … Or, Maybe They Were Used for Protection.

It’s also possible that, in lieu of webbing, each spine boasted a long, horny sheath with a pointed tip. By bending its head downward, some theorize, Amargasaurus could aim them at oncoming predators and hope that the display proved sufficiently scary-looking.

3. Another Idea is that Amargasaurus Banged Them Together Like a Percussion Instrument.  

Paleo-artist Gregory S. Paul speculates that when Amargasaurus shook its neck, those spikes smacked into each other, producing a loud, threatening noise.  

4. It Was Denied an Appearance in Disney’s Dinosaur (2000).

To this movie’s credit, it cast some rather obscure animals—instead of, say, T. rex, the villain was a devil-horned meat-eater named Carnotaurus. But a number of other dinosaurs were cut during pre-production. Concept artist Ricardo Delgado submitted an Amargasaurus design complete with giraffe-style spots, but the sauropod never made it on screen.

5. Amargasaurus is Named After Argentina’s La Amarga Rock Formation.

Located in the oil-rich Neuquen Basin, the outcropping is approximately 120 million years old. Amargasaurus was first unearthed there (near La Amarga, a namesake town) in 1991 by accomplished paleontologist José Bonaparte.

6. By Sauropod Standards, its Neck Was Pretty Short.

Some, like Mamenchisaurus, had huge necks that were about as long as the rest of their bodies. Amargasaurus wasn’t nearly so well-endowed. This South American critter belonged to the dicraeosauridae family, whose members were noted for their comparatively-diminutive necks.

7. It’s Related to Some of the World’s Most Famous Dinosaurs.

Dicraeosaurids are classified as diplodocoids, a large group that also includes Diplodocus (whose replicated bones are on display in museums all over the world) and the ever-popular Brontosaurus.

8. Amargasaurus Had Unusual Backbones.

Its neck gets all the attention, but Amargasaurus also rocked tall, paddle-shaped spines on its back vertebrae. Again, nobody knows what these did (or if, indeed, they served any function at all).

9. The Melbourne Museum has an Amargasaurus Replica Named Margie.

This full-sized skeletal cast used to spend her free time “writing” for the museum’s official blog (check out this adorable post about Margie’s Christmas attire).

10. According to a Recent Skull Analysis, Amargasaurus Was Well-Suited for Browsing.

Last year, paleontologists Ariana Carabajal, José Carballido, and Philip J. Currie published a report on Amargasaurus’ brain cavity. Their study concluded that, in general, this sauropod mostly pointed its muzzle towards the ground. Given this habit and its modest neck, Amargasaurus was seemingly built for nibbling on mid-level vegetation like tall shrubs. 

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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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