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One of the Biggest Dinosaurs Ever Discovered Is Now on Display in New York

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From the moment paleontologists began excavation on the site in Argentine Patagonia in 2014, they knew they had stumbled upon something extraordinary. The team from Argentina’s Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio (MEF) had been tipped off to the area by a local rancher who claimed to have fossils on his land. What they ended up finding there surpassed everyone's highest expectations. “The first bone we found, the femur, is the one that tells you a lot about the body size and body weight,” Diego Pol, one of the lead paleontologists at the dig, tells mental_floss. “So pretty much when the first bone appeared, we knew.”

That 8-foot thigh bone (which Pol can be seen lying beside above) was the first piece in the puzzle of what’s now believed to be one of the largest dinosaurs ever uncovered. The specimen is a member of a group of gargantuan sauropods from the Cretaceous period known as Titanosaurs, and its discovery was so recent that it doesn’t have an official scientific name yet. The prehistoric behemoth stretched 122 feet long, with 39 feet devoted to its expansive neck alone. It’s estimated to have weighed 70 tons, which is equivalent to 10 African elephants (currently the heaviest land animals alive). 

Similarly massive dinosaurs have been discovered in the past, but they have rarely provided as clear a picture as this newly uncovered Titanosaur. Argentinosaurus was thought to be the largest creature to walk the Earth when it was found in 1987, and that estimation was based on just a leg bone, half a dozen vertebrae, and few scraps of hipbone. Over the course of 18 months, this new Titanosaur excavation turned up 223 fossilized bones from six individual specimens. That accounts for about 70 percent of the creature’s skeleton.

A Titanosaur femur

Using 84 of the excavated fossils, a cast of the full skeleton was 3D-printed in lightweight fiberglass. The model is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History alongside the actual fossil of the sofa-sized femur that was initially discovered. The Titanosaur is larger than any other exhibit in the museum, and a full 30 feet longer than the iconic blue whale. In order to fit all 122 feet of the dinosaur inside the museum’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center on the fourth floor, its head has been positioned to poke out of the threshold and greet visitors as they enter. You can watch a time-lapse of its assembly in the video below.

What makes the specimen’s size even more impressive is that it’s believed to have been just an adolescent when it died. Paleontologists drew that conclusion by studying the animal’s vertebrae, but they plan to conduct more extensive tests on the fossils in the future. “We can tell by looking at cross-sections of these bones using microscopy how old an animal is, sometimes even how many lunar months an animal has been alive, and in the best case how many days the animal has been alive,” says Mark Norell, Macaulay Curator in the Division of Paleontology and the division’s chair.

To determine how these creatures might have lived 100 million years ago, scientists can look to elephants, their closest living equivalent on land, in terms of size. But because the dinosaur weighed 10 times as much as an elephant, there are still plenty of mysteries surrounding its existence that the scientists are finding creative ways to investigate. “We can now really start the research, because for the first time we have a fully complete skeleton of a giant species,” Pol tells mental_floss. “Now we’re analyzing the areas where the muscle inserts would have been to better understand how its muscle structure allowed it to walk around. That’s one of the challenges of being giant: It’s difficult to move.”

Even with the bones on display since last week, the specimen is still being exhibited under the broader label of Titanosaur. The dinosaur’s real name will be revealed in the paleontology team’s official scientific paper, which Pol hinted will be coming out soon.

All photos courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.

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Pig Island: Sun, Sand, and Swine Await You in the Bahamas
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When most people visit the Bahamas, they’re thinking about a vacation filled with sun, sand, and swimming—not swine. But you can get all four of those things if you visit Big Major Cay.

Big Major Cay, also now known as “Pig Island” for obvious reasons, is part of the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas. Exuma includes private islands owned by Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and David Copperfield. Despite all of the local star power, the real attraction seems to be the family of feral pigs that has established Big Major Cay as their own. It’s hard to say how many are there—some reports say it’s a family of eight, while others say the numbers are up to 40. However big the band of roaming pigs is, none of them are shy: Their chief means of survival seems to be to swim right up to boats and beg for food, which the charmed tourists are happy to provide (although there are guidelines about the best way of feeding the pigs).

No one knows exactly how the pigs got there, but there are plenty of theories. Among them: 1) A nearby resort purposely released them more than a decade ago, hoping to attract tourists. 2) Sailors dropped them off on the island, intending to dine on pork once they were able to dock for a longer of period of time. For one reason or another, the sailors never returned. 3) They’re descendants of domesticated pigs from a nearby island. When residents complained about the original domesticated pigs, their owners solved the problem by dropping them off at Big Major Cay, which was uninhabited. 4) The pigs survived a shipwreck. The ship’s passengers did not.

The purposeful tourist trap theory is probably the least likely—VICE reports that the James Bond movie Thunderball was shot on a neighboring island in the 1960s, and the swimming swine were there then.

Though multiple articles reference how “adorable” the pigs are, don’t be fooled. One captain warns, “They’ll eat anything and everything—including fingers.”

Here they are in action in a video from National Geographic:

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Christine Colby
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13 Secrets From the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London
Christine Colby
Christine Colby

Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, an ancient fortress that has been used as a jail, royal residence, and more. There are 37 Yeoman Warders, popularly known as Beefeaters, but Skaife has what might be the coolest title of them all: He is the Ravenmaster. His job is to maintain the health and safety of the flock of ravens (also called an “unkindness” or a “conspiracy”) that live within the Tower walls. According to a foreboding legend with many variations, if there aren’t at least six ravens living within the Tower, both the Tower and the monarchy will fall. (No pressure, Chris!)

Skaife has worked at the Tower for 11 years, and has many stories to tell. Recently, Mental Floss visited him to learn more about his life in service of the ravens.

1. MILITARY SERVICE IS REQUIRED.

All Yeoman Warders must have at least 22 years of military service to qualify for the position and have earned a good-conduct medal. Skaife served for 24 years—he was a machine-gun specialist and is an expert in survival and interrogation resistance. He is also a qualified falconer.

Skaife started out as a regular Yeoman Warder who had no particular experience with birds. The Ravenmaster at the time "saw something in him," Skaife says, and introduced him to the ravens, who apparently liked him—and the rest is history. He did, however, have to complete a five-year apprenticeship with the previous Ravenmaster.

2. HE LIVES ON-SITE.

The Tower of London photographed at night
Christine Colby

As tradition going back 700 years, all Yeoman Warders and their families live within the Tower walls. Right now about 150 people, including a doctor and a chaplain, claim the Tower of London as their home address.

3. BUT HE’S HAD TO MOVE.

Skaife used to live next to the Bloody Tower, but had to move to a different apartment within the grounds because his first one was “too haunted.” He doesn’t really believe in ghosts, he says, but does put stock in “echoes of the past.” He once spoke to a little girl who was sitting near the raven cages, and when he turned around, she had disappeared. He also claims that things in his apartment inexplicably move around, particularly Christmas-related items.

4. THE RAVENS ENJOY SOME UNUSUAL SNACKS.

The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London bending down to feed one of his ravens
Christine Colby

The birds are fed nuts, berries, fruit, mice, rats, chicken, and blood-soaked biscuits. (“And what they nick off the tourists,” Skaife says.) He has also seen a raven attack and kill a pigeon in three minutes.

5. THEY GET A LULLABY.

Each evening, Skaife whistles a special tone to call the ravens to bed—they’re tucked into spacious, airy cages to protect them from predators such as foxes.

6. THERE’S A DIVA.

One of the ravens doesn’t join the others in their nighttime lodgings. Merlina, the star raven, is a bit friendlier to humans but doesn’t get on with the rest of the birds. She has her own private box inside the Queen’s House, which she reaches by climbing a tiny ladder.

7. ONE OF THEM HAS EARNED THE NICKNAME “THE BLACK WIDOW.”

Ravens normally pair off for life, but one of the birds at the Tower, Munin, has managed to get her first two mates killed. With both, she lured them high atop the White Tower, higher than they were capable of flying down from, since their wings are kept trimmed. Husband #1 fell to his death. The second one had better luck coasting down on his wings, but went too far and fell into the Thames, where he drowned. Munin is now partnered with a much younger male.

8. THERE IS A SECRET PUB INSIDE THE TOWER.

Only the Yeoman Warders, their families, and invited guests can go inside a secret pub on the Tower grounds. Naturally, the Yeoman Warder’s Club offers Beefeater Bitter beer and Beefeater gin. It’s lavishly decorated in police and military memorabilia, such as patches from U.S. police departments. There is also an area by the bar where a section of the wall has been dug into and encased in glass, showing items found in an archaeological excavation of the moat, such as soldiers’ discarded clay pipes, a cannonball, and some mouse skeletons.

9. … AND A SECRET HAND.

The Byward Tower, which was built in the 13th century by King Henry III, is now used as the main entrance to the Tower for visitors. It has a secret glass brick set into the wall that most people don’t notice. When you peer inside, you’ll see it contains a human hand (presumably fake). It was put in there at some point as a bit of a joke to scare children, but ended up being walled in from the other side, so is now in there permanently.

10. HE HAS A SIDE PROJECT.

Skaife considers himself primarily a storyteller, and loves sharing tales of what he calls “Victorian melodrama.” In addition to his work at the Tower, he also runs Grave Matters, a Facebook page and a blog, as a collaboration with medical historian and writer Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris. Together they post about the history of executions, torture, and punishment.

11. THE TOWER IS MUPPET-FAMOUS.

2013’s Muppets Most Wanted was the first major film to shoot inside the Tower walls. At the Yeoman Warder’s Club, you can still sit in the same booth the Muppets occupied while they were in the pub.

12. IF YOU VISIT, KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MONEY.

Ravens are very clever and known for stealing things from tourists, especially coins. They will strut around with the coin in their beak and then bury it, while trying to hide the site from the other birds.

13. … AND ON YOUR EYES.

Skaife, who’s covered in scars from raven bites, says, “They don’t like humans at all unless they’re dying or dead. Although they do love eyes.” He once had a Twitter follower, who is an organ donor, offer his eyes to the ravens after his death. Skaife declined.

This story first ran in 2015.

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