Seen as it’s coming up to Christmas and the New Year, I thought I would do a list of the best dinosaur-related discoveries of the year. I have chosen these either because they are an important scientific discovery, or just because I think they’re cool. I will go in chronological order. Enjoy!
1) Oldest DinoEggs: At the beginning of April it came out that there had been some wonderful new discoveries of dinosaur embryos in China. China and Mongolia have been at the forefront of dinosaur discoveries for more than a decade now, so this wasn’t surprising. The whole site contained 190 million year old eggs, the oldest egg shells ever known, with non-avian dinosaur embryos inside (poor babies). The study that followed was the first of its kind and showed how dinosaur embryos grew and there was also preserved collagen in the baby bones- which is pretty exciting discovery. The dinosaurs inside turned out to be herbivorous sauropods Lufengosaurus, which was common to the area during the Jurassic period.
Image from: www.mnn.com
2) Doggy-paddling Dino: I put this in here because it’s interesting and a bit strange. It’s odd to think that dinosaur could have possibly behaved like modern-day mammals, especially domesticated ones like dogs. Surprise, surprise, this discovery was yet again found in China, also in April. The discovery was from a 100 million year old river bed in the Szechuan Province showing claw and scraping marks on the bottom. Stretching over a distance of 50 feet (15 meters), the markings show that the dinosaur had a coordinated, left-right, left-right swimming style. It’s rather difficult from scrape marks alone to determine what dinosaur this was, but the culprit is suspected to be an early tyrannosaur or a Sinocalliopteryx; predators known to have roamed this prehistoric landscape in China. Apparently, this river was like a ‘dinosaur highway’ where many dinosaurs would traipse up for long distances.
Image by: Nathan E. Rogers
3) House-cat Dinosaur?! Yet again in China and in April, new discoveries of Microraptor suggest that it hunted like a domestic cat and ate fish, 120 million years ago. Its gut contents consisted of many broken up bones of fish. Its teeth were perfectly designed for eating fish- they were serrated just on one side and were also angled forward. This little dino could then impale fish on its teeth without ripping the fish apart during the inevitable struggle. Now it’s known that Microraptor operated in a varied terrain, hunting different types of prey. Clearly fish was its favourite, but other evidence suggests it also gobbled up birds and terrestrial animals about the size of squirrels.
Image from: news.softpedia.com
4) World’s Oldest Known Birds: Lots of people think that dinosaurs and birds are completely different animals, but they are not, birds are dinosaurs and that’s just something we’re going to have to live with. And it often gets very difficult to decide when ‘dinosaur’ ends and ‘bird’ begins (take our friend Microraptor for example). In May a new species has knocked Archaeopteryx off the top spot for being the Earth’s Oldest Bird. Aurornis xui is a 160 million year old feathered dinosaur/bird from, you guessed it…China. It looked like a ground bird, but with a long tail, clawed hands and toothed jaws and came from the Tiaojishan Formation of Liaoning Province in north-eastern China. The fossil is excellently preserved and has clear feather impressions.
Image by: Jonica Dos Remedios/Claude Desmedt/IRSNB
5) The Mystery Nose: In July in North America (finally, somewhere other than China!) a dinosaur with long horns and a giant nose was unearthed in Utah. The dinosaur, Nasuceratops titusi, aka “Big Nosed Horned Faced,” measured about 15 feet long and weighed about 2.75 tons. This creature lived approximately 76 million years ago and its huge nose remains a mystery. However, it is suspected that its nose was nothing to do with a heightened sense of smell, since olfactory receptors occur further back in the head, adjacent to the brain. This dinosaur was a plant eater and a close relative of our friend Triceratops (Ps, stay tuned for some shocking news about him!). The amazing horns of Nasutoceratops were most likely used as visual signals of dominance and, when that wasn’t enough, as weapons for combating rivals.
Image from: gsenm.org
6) Stiff Necks: A study in mid-August proves that long-necked sauropods had stiffer necks than previously thought. Researchers analysed the movements of ostrich necks in order to gain insight into how long-necked dinosaurs may have moved. It turns out that they probably couldn’t swivel their necks round or even move their heads from ground to treetop. The cartilage and soft tissue of an ostrich neck actually reduces its flexibility, so it is most likely this is the same in long-necked dinosaurs. They probably had to move their large, lumbering bodies a fair amount to access the 880 lbs. (400 kilograms) of food they ate daily. However, more work needs to be done on perhaps giraffes so that the two can be compared.
Image from: www.bbc.co.uk
7) Arctic Footprints: In September a possible new major dinosaur site was found in Alaska near the Tanana and Yukon rivers. Researchers brought back 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of dinosaur footprint fossils, an abundance never seen before. They found a great diversity of dinosaurs; evidence of an extinct ecosystem previously unknown to us. The tracks were preserved in natural casts after they had stepped in mud. There is a lot more work to be done on these footprints, so look out for a lot more findings and discoveries to come!
Image by: Pat Druckenmiller
8) King of Gore: In early November, a new discovery of an early T .rex was found. Lythronax argestes, literally ‘King of Gore’ lived in south Utah, in the Late Cretaceous 80 million years ago. Its forward-facing eyes, powerful limbs and large size would have made it an efficient hunter of both duckbilled dinosaurs and horned dinosaurs. Lythoranx also had knife-edged teeth and powerful jaws and would have allowed it to carve out huge chunks of flesh and swallow bone whole. Lythronax is most closely related to T. rex and another dinosaur known as Tarbosaurus bataar however it was smaller than T. rex, reaching 30 feet in length and weighed about 3 tons.
Image from: www.theguardian.com
9) Entombed Baby Dino: At the beginning of December a baby dinosaur fossil was found that was so complete, it was almost lifelike. It is the first Chasmosaurus belli baby fossil and was entombed in the rock which preserved it. This baby lived 72 million years ago and was thought to be three years old when it drowned. This specimen was found in Alberta’s badlands at a place called Dinosaur Provincial Park and was fully intact minus the arms. Researchers hope to study the remains to determine how dinosaur skin ages, and to help solve other palaeontological mysteries.
Image from: www.lostateminor.com
10) Goodbye Childhood: Triceratops is one of the most well-known and probably one of the most loved dinosaurs. Now what if I told you that it was all a lie and Triceratops probably wasn’t real? Crushed? Palaeontologists at the Montana State University argue that the Triceratops and its cousin, the Torosaurus, was actually the same dinosaur at different stages of growth. Triceratops had three facial horns and a short, thick neck-frill with a saw-toothed edge. Torosaurus also had three horns, though at different angles, and a much longer, thinner, smooth-edged frill with two large holes in it. Marsh, who discovered both in the late 1800s, considered them to be separate species, probably because he was in a race with Cope to discover as many dinosaurs as possible. There isn’t a whole Triceratops fossil, so Marsh made many assumptions and even used different creatures’ bones to complete specimens. This is an ongoing investigation but I think one of the most important of this year. You may be pleased to know, however, that Torosaurus may be the name getting the boot, not Triceratops, so we don’t have to mourn just yet.
Image from: www.design-laorosa.com
So that was my top ten best and most important discoveries of 2013. I’m sure there will be many more to come and I hope you agree with my choices. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!