The humble turkey is the standard symbol of Thanksgiving, but it is also a living symbol of dinosaurs. Mind you the turkey is separated from its feathered dinosaur cousins by about 110 million years, but still, you are essentially eating a dinosaur at Thanksgiving dinner! Eating a feathered dinosaur, like Deinonychus antirrhopus, is one thing, but how would you go about eating a larger dinosaur, say like a Triceratops – or a juvenile Torosaurus. Fortunately, a paper released in Nature examined 18 Triceratops’ skulls and noted evidence of T-Rex tooth marks on the fossils. From examination of the tooth marks, the authors were able to construct how a T-Rex would feast on a Triceratops, in 4 easy steps.
- Get a good grip on the neck frill
- Tear the head off to expose neck muscles (left)
- Nibble on the soft flesh of the face
- Feast on the delicacies beneath the frill.
It is worth noting that the researchers found none of the bones to show signs of healing, suggesting that the biting took place after the Triceratops had died.
Speaking of Triceratops’ dying, turns out they were the last dinosaur standing. A Triceratops fossil from Montana’s Hell Creek Formation is the youngest, non-avian dinosaur known to science, it died 65 million years ago. This finding largely negates earlier theories of a gradual dinosaur die-off and supports the idea that they went extinct as a result of a sudden, mass extinction event, like a meteorite impact. If you want to know how much damage a meteorite could cause, check out Impact Earth, and play around with different parameters while trying to destroy the Earth.
Even though non-avian dinosaurs have long been extinct, there are still new ones being discovered, like the Xenoceratops foremostensis. Xenoceratops, (Xeno + ceratops, meaning “alien horned-face” [not to be confused with dinosaurs from space!] and foremostensis, in reference to where the fossil was found, Foremost, Alberta) was recently identified based on fragments of fossilized bone discovered in the 1950s. The fragments are housed in the Canadian Museum of Nature, which is where Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto, and Dr. Michael Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, stumbled upon the fragments (more than 10 years ago) and recognized them as a new species of horned dinosaur. Xenoceratops was approximately 20 feet long, weighed more than 2 tons, had massive spikes on its head shields, two long brow horns above its eyes, a parrot-like beak, and was herbivorous. This finding also helps to debunk one of the commonly held myths about dinosaurs, that they all live in jungles and warm climates. Dinosaurs actually lived in a wide range of ecosystems including, deserts, plains, coastlines, forests, jungles, and even high arctic environments.
While there are many myths about dinosaurs, there are many cool facts that are so amazing they might as well be myths. For one, dinosaur farts may have contributed to their demise. A paper in Current Biology used a quantitative approach to estimate the magnitude of methane production from sauropods. They concluded that between the heft of the dinosaurs and their fiber-rich diets, the sauropods likely produced a lot of gas (around 550 million tons of methane, compare to cows, which currently produce 50 to 100 million tons per year) which could have been a major factor in Earth’s warming. In addition to the diet of the sauropods contributing to global warming, the diet of the duck-billed hadrosaurs (which consisted heavily of conifers) may have contributed to them getting cancer. Scientists found a possibly lethal brain tumor, (an unusual type of bone-forming cancer called an extraskeletal osteosarcoma), in the fossilized skull of a Gorgosaurus. And if those facts aren’t weird enough for you, take a moment to try and imagine how dinosaurs would mate, and consider that scientists believe that huge dinosaurs, like those gassy sauropods, had to mate in water in order to stay standing (see left).
As you sit around the table this weekend, take some time to talk about dinosaurs (here is a great guide from Paleopix), because if you don’t talk to your family about paleontology, who will? Hopefully not them, or these guys. So keep all of that in mind as you carve up your Thanksgiving