On this day in dinosaurs, an African behemoth was unveiled for the first time. A team of researchers announced the discovery of sauropod skeletal remains, including a 5 and a 1/2 foot humerus, belonging to an animal that may have weighed as much as 60 tons.
Paralititan means “tidal giant” and the animal’s species name, stromeri, honors Ernest Stromer, the German baron who lost his African dinosaur fossils to allied bombs during World War II. “Stromer’s tidal giant” lived 94 million years ago in what is now the Sahara. Back then, North Africa was a large river system teeming with gigantic predators who all needed prey. A “60 ton steak” would have done nicely.
Paleontologists estimate that Paralititan was between 80 and 100 feet long, making it one of the largest animals ever to walk the earth. Its remains were scavenged by predators, but enough of the beast survived to make its identification as a sauropod clear. It may have been related to South American titanosaurs, like Argentinosaurus.
The team of researchers who discovered the bones in the Sahara presented their find to the public at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
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Everyone knows that non-avian dinosaurs are extinct. This catastrophe for the dinosaurs led, over many millennia, to the mammalian dominance that has persisted for the past 66 million years. While many people are aware that mammals took their shot when the opportunity was given to them, it is uncommon knowledge that dinosaurs were given the same chance almost 150 million years earlier.
The earliest dinosaurs appeared during the Triassic period, alongside a wide range of other animals–crocodilians, proto-mammals, large amphibians, and other enormous creatures. The first dinosaurs were small, fleet-footed runners. They diversified in the late Triassic, and then nature gave them a platform.
An extinction event at the end of the Triassic, 201 million years ago, created a vacuum in the terrestrial ecosystems that dinosaurs seized. It was this mass dying that led to the giant Jurassic dinosaurs that would follow. With less competition, the dinosaurs spread across the globe and assumed a bewildering variety of forms. It was extinction that allowed dinosaur dominance.
No clear-cut reason for this extinction event has been identified, but the usual culprits–asteroid impact, sudden climate change, violent volcanic eruptions–have all been debated.
The Cretaceous extinction event eliminated the last of the non-avian dinosaurs, but surely the most successful group of terrestrial vertebrates in the planet’s history would have understood the value of taking an opportunity when it arises. There is never any guarantee that extinction will stay its hand.
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A nest is an intimate thing. It’s not a home, but a place only for birth and nurturing. The first publicly heralded discovery of dinosaur eggs took place in Mongolia in 1923. Since then, paleontologists have discovered and described dinosaurs nests all over the world. These relics from the distant past shed light on how life began in the Mesozoic.
In the 1970s, dinosaur nesting colonies were discovered in Montana–giving scientists clues about the parenting skills of dinosaurs. Eggshells were found crushed in the nest, and the associated remains of youngsters showed that their bones hadn’t developed enough for walking. This means that the adults were bringing food back to the nest until the young were large enough to walk out on their own. Other species exhibited largely intact eggshells, meaning that the baby dinosaurs were up and out of the nest quickly and foraging alongside their parents.
We also find that dinosaur colonies resemble bird nest sites, in that the spacing between the nests is equal to the length of an adult. So the dinosaurs were closely packed together, as avian colonies are today. Unlike birds, the big dinosaurs were too heavy to sit on their eggs. They’d crush the little things, rather than incubate them. Dinosaurs relied on rotting vegetation to provide the necessary heat. Smaller dinosaurs, like Citipati (pictured above) were able to incubate their eggs in a more typically avian fashion.
Dinosaurs are often regarded as large animals, but their eggs don’t get very big. The eggshell needed to be thin enough for the baby’s respiration to occur, while also being thick enough to hold the egg together. This means that even the largest dinosaurs began life in small eggs, and by studying the bones of youngsters, we can see how fast they grew–and in many cases, their growth rates were astronomical, reaching adult size in just a few years.
In less than a century, we’ve learned so much from dinosaur nest sites. Share your favorite dinosaur egg photos and memories with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.
On this day in dinosaurs, we present another double feature.
2010 – Diabloceratops published
Around 79 million years ago in present-day Utah, a member of the ceratopsian family sported an impressive set of horns on its frilled head. Like the other members of this imposing group, this animal had a signature arrangement of horns: a small horn on the nose, a horn above each of its eyes, and two long spikes protruding from the top of its neck frill. Because of this configuration, scientists dubbed the animal Diabloceratops.
At the time it was discovered, Diabloceratops was the oldest known ceratopsid and was linked with earlier proceratopsid forms by having an accessory opening in its skull that disappeared in later (and more publicly recognized) horned dinosaurs.
2004 – Maryland Science Center opens Dinosaur Mysteries
Also on this day, the Maryland Science Center opened a real hands-on exhibit for those little aspiring paleontologists. Dinosaur Mysteries features more than a dozen dinosaur skeletons and opportunities to interact with many displays–giving kids the chance to experience the dinosaur world kinesthetically.
There are plenty of inducements for adults as well–Tyrannosaurus rex mounted with gastralia (uncommon), full size models of dinosaurs including Maryland’s own Astrodon, and dynamic skeletal mounts that provide excellent photo opps.
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On this day in dinosaurs, the Flintstones hit the big screen with a live action adaptation of the classic cartoon. Starring John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, and Rosie O’Donnell, the film was a major box office success.
Though the dinosaurs in Bedrock have never been scientifically accurate–let alone the obvious 65 million year disconnect between humans and dinosaurs–the Flintstones have always retained a charm rooted in the glorification of prehistory.
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2012 – Field Station: Dinosaurs opens in New Jersey
On this day in dinosaurs, Field Station: Dinosaurs opened their original location with more than 30 lifesize animatronic dinosaurs. With the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, the original Field Station: Dinosaurs park guided visitors through an outdoor wooded area brimming with prehistoric superstars, including a 90 foot long Argentinosaurus.
Field Station: Dinosaurs is more than gawking at big robots. The park is designed as an educational “expedition,” requiring visitors to carry scientific credentials and participate in learning more about dinosaurs. There’s a dinosaur troubadour who performs concerts with Mesozoic music, presentations from paleontologists and other experts, and interactive stations that engage kids and adults alike.
With more parks planned to open in the coming years in other areas, we wish Field Station: Dinosaurs continued success!
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On this day in dinosaurs, Gideon Mantell presented a paper to the Royal Society of London entitled “On the Structure of the Jaws and Teeth of the Iguanodon.” Mantell describes the bones in great detail, comparing them to the much more incomplete fragments he’d described in 1841.
Without any full fossil skeletons, Mantell was still wrestling with the exact size of Iguanodon, and he often wildly extrapolated, thinking its jaws could be up to four feet long! But Mantell was also aware that the teeth of his dinosaur were not like those of a modern iguana. With each new discovery, dinosaurs gained their own character, even when being compared to today’s reptiles and mammals.
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Dinosaurs are often proclaimed as the ultimate in prehistoric antiquity. Many people know that the world is old, and dinosaurs inhabited it before people. Few are encouraged to really consider the lifespan of the planet and the many creatures that have rose to prominence and then fell to extinction both before and after the reign of the dinosaurs.
The earliest dinosaur fossils are in excess of 200 million years old, making the long-standing Egyptian pyramids seem ridiculously recent. In contrast, the earliest known fossil remains of life may be 4 billion years old. If those reports are accurate, then life arose shortly after the planet was formed and has persisted ever since.
The first amphibians crawled out of the oceans 350 million years ago. They found that the land was already colonized by plants and insects. But more than 100 million years would pass before the first classic dinosaurs would start to appear. In fact, the famous Jurassic superstars–Brontosaurus, Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, and their kin–did not appear until 150 million years ago.
This is not to downplay the dinosaur dynasty in any way. No terrestrial group has ever been more successful–especially when you consider the continued flourishing of the avian dinosaurs today. And yet, after the Cretaceous extinction event, 66 million years passed with great families of mammals waxing and waning.
So it is worth considering that dinosaurs, for all their majesty, are just one chapter in the long, fascinating history of life on Earth. We, too, are a part of Earth’s biological story. How long will our chapter be?
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On this day in dinosaurs, audiences traveled to Isla Sorna for the first time. After the worldwide phenomenon of Jurassic Park in 1993, a sequel was inevitable. Visiting “Site B” with a largely new cast, supported by Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough, the second film in the JP franchise gave cinematic nods to its predecessor along with The Lost World and King Kong.
Audiences were given many more species of dinosaur in The Lost World, while still enjoying time with favorites like Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus. When the tyrannosaur breaks loose in California, a series of calamities ensues.
While not as beloved as the original Jurassic Park, this sequel is a sometimes dark, sometimes epic tale about what happens to humanity’s creations when they’re given free reign.
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On this day in dinosaurs, we present a double feature in dinosaur popularization.
1859 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Born
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known to most as the author of Sherlock Holmes, but to dinophiles, he’s the genius behind The Lost World–perhaps the most repeated storyline in cinema and television. Since its original publication in 1912, Conan Doyle’s tale has been recreated on innumerable occasions.
1936 – Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, SD Dedicated
Also on this day, in 1936, a popular tourist attraction opened in Rapid City, South Dakota. Situated on a sandstone ridge that bears the footprints and remains of both late Jurassic and early Cretaceous dinosaurs, Dinosaur Park was conceived as a public works project during the Great Depression. The project also served as a way to lure Mount Rushmore visitors toward the city.
Made from concrete over iron pipe framework, the dinosaurs have been a favorite climbing frame for children for the past 7 decades.
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