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10 Bony Facts About Amargasaurus

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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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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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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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