Under the Roof of Stegosaurus

How have we not talked about Stegosaurus here yet? Simply unreasonable. It goes without saying that Stegosaurus is one of the most recognizable dinosaurs ever. Every kid who knows what a dinosaur is knows about Stegosaurus. That said, many people don’t know Stegosaurus as well as they think they do. There’s a lot of pop culture myths and misunderstandings around this strange beast.

Stegosaurus was discovered at just the right time to earn its status as a true icon of palaeontology. The first described fossils of this dinosaur, fully dubbed Stegosaurus armatus, came from Colorado in the 1870’s, and were named by the oil baron of palaeontology, Othniel Charles Marsh (Marsh, 1877). This was during that ultra-competitive time in American palaeontology known as the Bone Wars, when Marsh and his rival E. D. Cope scoured the west for …

The Real Parasaurolophus

It’s safe to say that Parasaurolophus is easily one of, if not the most, popular hadrosaurs amongst the general public. It’s as iconic as it is weird looking, with that long, backward-curving, tube-shaped crest. It’s an almost alien creature in a way. Despite its popularity though (which seems to have arisen around the time of the dinosaur’s bit-part in Jurassic Park), Parasaurolophus remains a relatively rare hadrosaur compared to other famous duckbills from Cretaceous North America, and many strange ideas have surrounded it over the decades. Let’s take a look at what the latest science has to say on the real Parasaurolophus.

The holotype specimen of this dinosaur was found in Dinosaur Provincial Park in 1920 by a team from the Royal Ontario Museum. Levi Sternberg, part of the legendary Sternberg dinosaur hunting family, oversaw the collection of the dinosaur …

Amber: Big Info From the Smallest Fossils

Many of us are familiar with amber thanks to, of course, Jurassic Park. It’s often thought of as that yellowish, cloudy rock made of fossilized tree sap often containing prehistoric insects with the potential to bear the incredible resource of preserved dinosaur DNA. However, as with most things dealing with palaeontology in pop culture, the truth is different than what you see on this screen.

Amber is a real thing, yes, and it does originate from trees. However, amber is generally derived from fossilized tree resin as opposed to sap. Resin is a much thicker, stickier fluid made by plants. It’s composed of organic compounds called terpenes, and is used by the plant to protect itself from predatory insects and diseases. When something gets into a living tree trunk, for example, the tree will ooze resin at the site …

Swimming Dinosaurs

In late April 2020, a description of the tail vertebrae of Spinosaurus was published in the journal Nature (Ibrahim et al., 2020). Most publications on the slowly-unveiled anatomy of this enigmatic giant theropod tend to get a lot of attention, and shocks. The Ibrahim et al., 2020 paper was par for the course in this, with its assentation that long, delicate spines on the top of Spinosaurus’ tail, features which until recently hadn’t been fully described in this dinosaur, served as an adaptation for swimming.

Despite the unforeseen weirdness of the tail, it wasn’t too surprising to see suggested to be an aquatic propulsion tool. Previous studies have asserted that Spinosaurus was adapted to life in and around fresh water (Ibrahim et al., 2014) (Arden, 2018), though Henderson, 2018 put forth that Spinosaurus wasn’t as hydrodynamic as others …

The Real Allosaurus

Try to imagine, if you can, a world before Tyrannosaurus was the definitive carnivorous dinosaur. There was actually a time when that was indeed the case. Dinosaurs were first defined as a group in 1842, and Tyrannosaurus wasn’t described until 1905. That’s over sixty years of scientists and the public being aware of dinosaurs, but unaware that the tyrant king of reptiles lay buried in late Cretaceous rocks in western North America.

The first dinosaur that people ever thought of as the defining ‘big nasty carnivore’ was Megalosaurus, but remains of this dinosaur have always been fragmentary, and it languished for years as a wastebasket taxon. Between this first-known fossil theropod and the discovery of T. rex, another dinosaur held the title of the Mesozoic’s top terrestrial villain, and that was Allosaurus.

Allosaurus is a fairly well-known dinosaur, …

The Weird Dinosaurs Saga: Carnotaurus

Imagine the world roughly 70 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period. Global temperatures overall are quite warm, and the continents have yet to take the configuration we know them in today. Unbeknownst to them, the non-avian dinosaurs only have about four million years left. An endless expanse of time to us humans, but a drop in the greater cosmic bucket.

During this little slice of time, if you were walking around Alberta, Canada, between the Rocky Mountains and the Western Interior Seaway, you’d spot all sorts of dinosaurs that now fill the halls of North American museums. Vast herds of the flat-horned Pachyrhinosaurus or shovel-beaked Edmontosaurus, the feathered carnivore Atrociraptor, crested hadrosaurs like Hypacrosaurus or Saurolophus, the birdlike Epichirostenotes and Dromiceiomimus, and the horned giant Eotriceratops. The large carnivore niche was solely dominated …

The Real Pachycephalosaurus

Everyone knows Pachycephalosaurus, that bipedal dome-head that ran around head-butting other dinosaurs all day long, but few people ever stop and give it much thought beyond that. The history and biology of Pachycephalosaurus and its relatives is complex, and for a family of dinosaurs that’s been a pop culture staple for so long we still don’t know a whole lot about the pachycephalosaur family.

This is an odd group of dinosaurs, with Pachycephalosaurus being the largest so far yet perhaps not the strangest. Like their basal ornithischian ancestors, pachycephalosaurs were bipedal, never attainting giant quadruped morphs like all other bird-hipped dinosaur lineages eventually did. There’s precious little post-cranial material from these already rare dinosaurs known, so for many species we can only infer what they looked like from the neck down by studying a few relatively complete specimens. The …

A Brief History of Mammals Part 1: The Early Synapsids

To many people, mammals seem like very modern animals. Palaeontologists of the mid-20th Century often framed the story of life on Earth into overly-simplified chapters, with the earlier Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras being the ‘Age of Fish’ and ‘Age of Reptiles’ respectively, and the current Cenozoic being the ‘Age of Mammals’. This might make for easy mental categorization, but it’s also misleading. Mammals themselves date back to the time of the dinosaurs, and their earlier cousins, the non-mammalian synapsids, go back earlier.

While the evolution of mammals isn’t as glamorous in the eyes of the public as dinosaurs, palaeontologists have always been highly interested in fossil mammals and their relatives. When the study of dinosaurs became less popular during the first half of the 20th Century, mammal palaeontology was treated with much weight and seriousness. Today, it’s still a very …

The Weird Dinosaurs Saga: Deinocheirus

Dinosaurs have become so popular that it’s easy to forget just how weird they are as animals. Many were huge, and depending on the family some had long necks, plates, spikes, horns, frills, domed heads, and other such things. Some were the size of elephants but with heads the size of a horse’s. That isn’t to say that, in the big picture, dinosaurs are any less wacky than many animals around today. Whales, pangolins, turtles, and most birds are all truly bizarre creatures, but (likely aside from pangolins) we’re pretty used to them. Mesozoic dinosaurs are unfamiliar, and so by our standards they’re pretty weird, but some are less familiar than others. One case I’d like to highlight in this article is the ‘terrible hand’ of Mongolia, Deinocheirus.

In 1965, Polish palaeontologist Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska discovered a gigantic pair of …

How Many Kinds of Dinosaurs Were There?

It seems like, back in the good old pre-Dinosaur Renaissance days, the number of dinosaur species known to science was a pretty self-contained thing. You had your Tyrannosaurus, your Triceratops, your Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus, ‘Monoclonius’, and all the other classics. It was kind of like a baseball team of fossil animals. This was never really true, of course, because despite the fact that only a dozen or so animals ever seemed to make it into the popular science books of yesterday, there was hundreds of more obscure dinosaurs that never got much time in the limelight being named at the same time as the star species.

Nowadays, with paleontology being more popular than ever and with people getting better and better at it all the time, new dinosaur species are being named on a weekly basis from …

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