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20 mind-blowing facts about dinosaurs

by Caroline Décoste

Rodney, Perot Museum / Wikimedia Commons

If your reference for all things paleontological is the film Jurassic Park, you’ll be amazed at what’s been discovered about dinosaurs in recent years! Here are 20 facts about these terrible lizards that are sure to surprise you.

Troodons had hands (sort of)

Perot Museum of Nature and Science / Wikimedia Commons

Troodon formosus was a small bipedal carnivore that stood about 3 metres (10 feet) tall and lived during the late Cretaceous period. It could move its forearms to grasp objects or prey with three clawed fingers.

Spinosaurus could swim

Kumiko / Wikimedia Commons

It was long believed that land dinosaurs never ventured into the water. After a close examination of a Spinosaurus tail fossil, however, researchers from the University of Detroit Mercy have determined that this large carnivore hunted its prey by swimming!

(Nearly) bus-sized flying dinosaur

Mark Witton and Darren Naish / Wikimedia Commons

Quetzalcoatlus northropi had a wingspan of nearly 36 feet (10 metres), roughly equivalent to the length of a bus. Scientists still wonder, though, if it was really able to fly. Chances are more likely that it could manage short distances and glide, a bit like vultures. (Note: To be precise, the Quetzalcoatlus is actually in the pterosaur family rather than the dinosaur family.)

Turkey-sized Velociraptor

Fred Wierum / Wikimedia Commons

Here are two things that Jurassic Park had all wrong. First, the Velociraptor was about the size of a Thanksgiving turkey. Second, it was covered with feathers from head to tail.

Utahraptor was the true king of the raptors

Etemenanki3 / Wikimedia Commons

The king of the Dromaeosauridae family (Velociraptor, Deinonychus) was clearly the Utahraptor ostrommaysorum. At nearly 6 metres long, this dinosaur attacked prey with 9-inch claws (about 23 cm), not that different than the movie version of Velociraptor! The Utahraptor has now become so famous that it has replaced the Allosaurus as Utah’s official dinosaur.

Sauropods could peek into a fifth-floor window

Mariol Lanzas / Wikimedia Commons

Sauropods were known for their long necks and overall gigantic size. Patagotitan mayorum, the largest to be found and identified to date, was around 30 metres long and could have weighed 53 tons. That’s tall enough for its head to reach through a fifth-floor window! Stay tuned. Patagotitan could lose its place to a specimen currently being unearthed in Argentina.

T. rex was a cannibal

Etemenanki3 / Wikimedia Commons

This comes as no surprise. In fact, Tyrannosaurus teeth marks have been found on other deceased tyrannosaurs. Scientists believe, however, that it’s unlikely that they hunted each other. T. rexes probably fought one another, and the winner made a meal of the loser.

Discovery of T. rex embryo

David Monniaux, Palais de la Découverte, Paris / Wikimedia Commons

Digging up a fossilized juvenile Tyrannosaurus (less than 11 years old) is, itself, a rare event, so discovering an embryo is even more extraordinary! Scanning the fossil with a particle accelerator provided a full view of the embryo’s jaw, identifying it as Tyrannosaurus rex.

Dinosaur with rainbow feathers

Lucas-Attwell / Wikimedia Commons

Some 161 million years ago, Caihong juji sported iridescent feathers, similar to those of a hummingbird! A study of the melanosomes (organelles that synthesize and store melanin) of a fossil found in China revealed the phenomenon. Caihong juji means “rainbow with a big crest” in Mandarin.

Parasaurolophus sounded like a horn

Jens Lallensack / Wikimedia Commons

Parasaurolophus’ head is instantly recognizable. Researchers were surprised to discover that its nasal bone crest was striated with conduits capable of producing sound. According to some scientists, this dinosaur may have emitted a sound similar to a horn!

Stegosaurus brains were no bigger than a nut

Etemenanki3 / Wikimedia Commons

A back bristling with two rows of plates (that could move!) and a tail adorned with four spikes certainly made the Stegosaurus an impressive specimen. Despite growing to nearly 9 metres long, though, this Jurassic herbivore had a tiny brain weighing barely 80 g, equivalent to a walnut or, at most, a lime.

Maiasaura was a good parent

Nevit Dilmen, Natural History Museum, London, Dinosaur Gallery / Wikimedia Commons

The Maiasaura is one of the few dinosaurs with a feminine Latin name. Meaning “good mother lizard,” the moniker reflects this dinosaur’s admirable parenting skills. The Maiasaura was an herbivore from the hadrosaur family and incubated its eggs with decaying plants. Plus, it lived in groups including both adults and youngsters, a rare habit among dinosaurs, but common in mammals.

Pegomastax was hairy

Todd Marshall / Wikimedia Commons

We’ve known for some time that many dinosaurs were either partially or entirely covered with feathers. In contrast, the Pegomastax africanus, an herbivore from the Jurassic era, went in a different direction, possibly covered from head to toe with hair.

Fossils found at the North Pole

Rodney, Perot Museum / Wikimedia Commons

Dinosaurs are often imagined living in southern locations, deserts, and hot environments. Yet, fossils of horned dinosaurs, such as Pachyrhinosaurus, Edmontosaurus, and even Troodons have been found north of the Arctic Circle. Recall that during the late Cretaceous period, Alaska was much closer to the North Pole and had a much more temperate climate than today.

Pachycephalosaurus’ dome remains a mystery

Momotarou2012 / Wikimedia Commons

Was it used to headbutt opponents during a fight? Could it have been just for looks? Scientists are divided as to the nature of the Pachycephalosaurus’ characteristic cranial dome. Perhaps new fossils will eventually give us the answer — or we may never know!

Brontosaurus didn’t exist for 100 years

Matt Wedel, Peabody Museum of Natural History / Wikimedia Commons

It’s all about taxonomy, the branch of natural science concerned with naming organisms! When two teams discovered dinosaurs from the same species, but with different names, the older name took precedence. As a result, Brontosaurus was declared to actually be Apatosaurus in 1903. In 2015, however, Emanuel Tschopp and his team identified Brontosaurus as, once again, distinct from Apatosaurus.

Fossilized dinosaur feces

Poozeum / Wikimedia Commons

Skeletons are, of course, very glamorous, but imagine finding fossilized excrement! Coprolites actually provide a lot of information about their owners’ diets and help researchers estimate their size and weight. Science is everywhere!

Dinosaur named after a rock star

James St. John / Wikimedia Commons

Greek and Latin roots have long been used to name new dinosaur species. In recent years, however, international discoveries have inspired more original species names. For example, Masiakasaurus knopfleri was named after Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, whose music served as motivation for the field team!

Dinosaur reproduction remains uncertain

Judi Lapsley Miller / Wikimedia Commons

As ancestors of birds and close relatives of crocodiles, dinosaurs probably had a cloaca, an orifice used for urination, defecation, fertilization, and egg-laying. That said, like crocodiles, but unlike birds (except ducks), male tyrannosaurs may have had a long internal organ!

Dinosaurs aren’t dead

Donald E. Davis / NASA / Wikimedia Commons

What? Of course, non-avian dinosaurs, as well as several pterosaur, marine reptile, and ammonite species (in fact, 75% of the animals on Earth) suddenly became extinct 66 million years ago during the great extinction. Avian dinosaurs have survived, though. We’re referring, of course, to birds, members of the same family as the T. rex (theropods)!

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