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10 Sharp Facts About Gastonia

Sorry, North Carolina: Today’s dinosaur has nothing to do with your charming city of the same name. It is, however, a very important animal—as any armored dinosaur expert can attest.

1. Gastonia Had a Wicked Tail.

Running down each side of this beast was a row of vaguely triangular plates with sharpened edges. According to paleontologist James I. Kirkland (who named the animal), these “overlap[ped] when flexed with a shearing action that certainly could have left huge gashes and chopped fingers off.”  

2. Rival Gastonia Might Have Butted Heads.

The evidence: Gastonia’s braincase was a bit on the flexible side, which would have made it great at absorbing shock, and the skull itself was pretty thick. And, unlike many herbivorous reptiles, Gastonia’s eyes faced directly forward—so opponents could have stared each other down while knocking noggins. 

3. It Was Discovered By Artist and Fossil-Hunter Robert Gaston.

Before Gaston made it big as a manufacturer of high-quality fossil replicas, he worked for a rock shop owner out in Moab, Utah. At one point during this gig, Gaston came across several bones which had once belonged to a then-unknown dinosaur. Kirkland later honored him by christening it Gastonia burgei.  

4. … And Introduced to the Scientific Community by a Star Trek Novelist.

Kirkland co-wrote First Frontier: Star Trek (#75) in 1995—three years before releasing a paper that broke the news of Gastonia’s discovery. Dirty Jobs fans also got to see Kirkland upstage host and handyman Mike Rowe during one 2011 episode:  

5. This Creature’s Remains are Quite Common.

In eastern Utah, paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter once worked on an uninterrupted layer of various Gastonia bones that was 75 yards wide.

6. An Enormous Raptor Stalked its Territory.

Given its 18-foot length, there’s a good chance that Utahraptor was the biggest dromaeosaur of all time. One hundred and twenty-six million years ago, the carnivore probably hunted Gastonia.

7. It’s Helped Challenge the Idea that Armored Dinosaurs Were Loners.

Gastonia and its tank-like relatives are collectively known as ankylosaurs. Traditionally, they’ve been envisioned as solitary drifters. However, we have, on many occasions, found ankylosaurs of the same species buried together at the same site. These include Utah’s Gastonia burgei, Mongolia’s Talarurus plicatospineus, and the European Struthiosaurus austriacus. So maybe they were pretty sociable after all.

8. There’s a Bony Shield Above Its Hips.

Dozens of bony plates were fused together into this broad, helpful covering which rested over Gastonia’s rump.

9. Drawings of Another Dinosaur Are Often Based (at Least in Part) on Gastonia.

The British ankylosaur Polacanthus has been known to science since Reverend William D. Fox happened upon it in 1865. Unfortunately, he never found a complete skull—and two World Wars, six moon landings, and 32 prime ministers later, one still hasn’t turned up. So when artists try to paint or sculpt it, they generally give it a Gastonia-esque head, because the two were close relatives

10. Gastonia Became Part of a Record-Setting Year.

Gastonia was just one dinosaur genus out of the 29 that were formally named in 1998. At the time, this was a groundbreaking haul: Never before had so many been coined during a single year. But since 2005, that number has been either matched or surpassed on an annual basis. Happy digging, everybody!

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LEGO
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New LEGO Set Recreates Jurassic Park's Iconic Velociraptor Chase Scenes
LEGO
LEGO

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise, is skulking into theaters on June 22. That makes now the perfect time to revisit the original film in LEGO form.

This LEGO set, spotted by Nerdist, depicts some of the most suspenseful scenes from the 1993 movie. There's the main computer room where Ariana Richards's Lex shows off her hacker skills while Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) struggle to keep a hungry dinosaur from barging in. Just like in the film, the door features a deadbolt lock that's velociraptor-proof (though, unfortunately for the characters, the detachable window is not). Other Easter eggs hidden in this part include a map of Isla Nublar and a screener saver of LEGO Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight).

In the neighboring room, you'll find the cold storage unit where the dinosaur embryos are kept, along with the fake shaving cream can Nedry uses to steal them. The final section is the kitchen, where Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex are stalked by the velociraptor. There's less room for them to hide in the LEGO version compared to the movie set, but there is at least one functioning cabinet for Lex to tuck herself into. Closer inspection reveals even more details from the film, like the lime-green Jello Lex is eating when the raptors first arrive and the step ladder the gang uses to escape into the air ducts during the final chase.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

LEGO Jurassic Park set.

The Jurassic Park Velociraptor Chase set is currently available from the LEGO shop for $40.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of LEGO.

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CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
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science
Why Are There No More Dinosaurs?
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Actually, there are still dinosaurs: Birds! But let’s talk about that a little later. Scientists have found clues in rocks and fossils that tell us that by 65 million years ago, the climate (CLY-met), or usual weather, of the Earth had changed a lot, becoming cooler and drier. That was hard on the heat-loving dinosaurs. But that’s not why almost all of the dinosaurs became extinct, or disappeared forever. Scientists think a terrible event occurred that killed them off.

In 1991, scientists discovered a huge 110-mile-long crater, or hole, in the Gulf of Mexico. They think this crater was made by a giant, fiery, 6-mile-wide asteroid (AST-er-oyd) from space that smashed into the Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact was more powerful than any bomb we have ever known. Scientists believe this event killed most plant and animal life—including the dinosaurs. The asteroid probably caused shockwaves, earthquakes, fireballs, wildfires, and tidal, or really big, waves. It also sent huge amounts of dust and gas into the atmosphere, which is like a big blanket of air that surrounds the Earth. That was really bad for the planet.

The dust blocked sunlight, making the planet very cold and dark. Then, over time, the gases trapped heat, causing the Earth to get even hotter than it was before the asteroid hit. This change was deadly for most dinosaurs, and they became extinct. But birds survived. Many millions of years earlier, they had evolved (ee-VOL-ved), or changed slowly over time, from one group of dinosaurs. And when the dinosaurs disappeared, mammals diversified (die-VERSE-uh-fide), or changed, into many different kinds of animals—including us, many millions of years later. So the next time you see a bird swoop by, wave hello to the little flying dinosaur!    


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