The Most Intriguing Dinosaur Discoveries of 2014

Ruth Schuster
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This could have happened: Leinkupal laticauda shown using its tail to beat off predators (illustration by Jorge Antonio Gonzalez).Credit: Reuters
Ruth Schuster

First dinosaur discovered in Saudi Arabia

Dinosaur finds in the Arabian peninsula were all but nonexistent until a Swedish team discovered 72-million-year-old backbone pieces from the tail of a titanosaur, no less, and some teeth from an abelisaurid, a bipedal carnivorous dinosaur about 6 meters feet long. The find originated with oil geologists (of course) who had actually come across fossil marine reptiles: the rest is serendipity. So why are fossil dinos so rare in the Middle East? Mostly because much of the region was a sea back when. We do have a lot of fossil shells.

Paleontologists figure out what color dinosaurs were

Well, maybe they can figure it out. Epidermal cells contain melanosomes, which are microscopic color-bearing organelles. Think of them as pigment granules. Differently-colored melanosomes have different shapes. So if we can see and identify the melanosomes, we can tell if the part containig them was black or brown or gray and at some point, we may be able to "see" other colors as well. (No melanosomes = white). Meanwhile, scientists in China and the University of Akron say that dinosaurs that evolved into birds (in contrast to dinos that didn't evolve into birds) had great diversification of melanosomes, like today's mammals and birds, and may therefore have been brightly colored. So, was T-rex pink? We don't know but may one day. Meanwhile some shrug that what the scientists are seeing aren't fossil melanosomes but fossil bacteria. Stay tuned.

New dinosaur called biggest carnivore in Europe

Paleontologists have found the biggest known carnivorous dinosaur in Europe: the 10-meter-long Torvosaurus gurneyi. The bipedal beauty weighed 4-5 tons, had a skull almost 4 feet long, and had powerful jaws lined with 4-inch long blade-shaped teeth. Measure your tooth. It is a lot smaller. Evidently it fed on its herbivorous fellows. T-rex, which didn't live in Europe, was bigger, by the way.

Apatosaur cloned from ancient DNA?

No, scientists from Britain did not clone a dinosaur from fossil DNA or any other way. That hoax making the rounds on Internet in April had a picture not of an Apatosaurus, as stated, but of a baby kangaroo, which, being born in an embryonic state (it then moves to the pouch for months), is by nature a pretty repulsive sight. The closest science has gotten to reenacting dinosauria is to muck about with chicken genes until producing a throwback – a chicken with teeth. In its beak. Yeah.

This is not a baby apatosaur.

Biggest dinosaur ever, period, found in Patagonia

This beast's thigh-bone is longer than you are tall, even if you play for the NBA. Its neck stretched 35 feet and its body, 85 feet. It weighed more than a Boeing 747: Based on size and comparison with other diplodocids, scientists suspect Dreadnoughtus schrani weighed about or 77 tons. The T-rex, for comparison, is believed to have averaged some 7 tons. In other words it weighed as much as 1,100 people. With its neck (and rather small head) upright, say the scientists, it was around 7 stories tall. It was a herbivore.

Archaeopteryx was black no blond no it was black aaaaargh

The first microscopic studies on feathers of the most famous of dinobirds indicated that the 150 million-year-old thing was black. Then, after a series of X-ray experiments, Manchester U scientists cried nay!  Those 'black' results were from very tiny samples of the bird, while their tests on the whole fossil feather infer that it was light in color, with dark edges. Then a November study found that the inner vane of the Archaeopteryx feather was "packed with black melanosomes" and decided that the feather was black after all. Nu. Meanwhile here is a picture of another species of dinobird:

First dinosaur ever found with both feathers and scales

True, since this announcement, scientists have started to think that basically all dinosaurs had feathers of some sort, at least in some stage of their long-gone lives. But meanwhile, a team in Siberia discovered the diminutive Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, the first non-therapod dinosaur found with feathers. It was a meter-long plant-eater dating from the middle Jurassic that looked, according to the artistic rendition of its charms, rather like an evil chicken with little arms instead of wings and a crocodile-like tail. Bet it tasted like chicken.

Awwwww. A rock with the tiny skeletal remains of 30 Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis babies with what appears to be their babysitter was discovered in the Yixian formation in north-eastern China. Going by its skull size, the older dinosaur seems to have been around four to five years old, which is still childhood for that species: hence it was probably not a parent and certainly wasn't there to eat the kids, since it was a herbivore. Therefore, postulate paleontologists, it may have been babysitting the nest, as some birds do, until unfortunately being covered in what seems to have been a flow of cooled debris from a volcanic blast.

Water-loving dinosaur predator bigger than T-rex found

A monster dinosaur found in the sands of the Sahara confounded paleontologists, by a) being the only carnivorous dinosaur known to walk on four legs, not two b) looking rather like a monster dachshund but bigger than T-Rex, with 7-foot spines on its back. Spinosaurus aegyptiacus is not only the biggest dinosaur predator know to date; it's also the first known swimmer among the meat-eating pack, paleontologists say. It was 15 meters long, while T-rex (pink? not pink?) boasted a mere 12.5 meters or so. Bah.

Scientists revisited the classifications of fossil crocodiles - where would we be if they didn't do that - which conferred an opportunity for the world press to remind readers of the great Machimosaurus, a teleosaurid crocodyliform from the Late Jurassic that was almost as long as a bus, and it did get around. There were three different species of Machi in Europe alone, and a fourth has been found in Ethiopia. The titch of the lot was a mere 6 meters long, while M. hugii measured 9 meters and counting. The scientists say M. hugii lived in the open sea while the smaller ones may have been more in-land types. Today's crocs are related to this bunch.

New dinosaur discovered, in museum basement

A new dinosaur species has been discovered - in Ottawa's Canadian Museum of Nature, where the fossil had been moldering for three quarters of a century. Pentaceratops aquilonius is a rather small species of Pentaceratops, a cousin of the better known Triceratops. The difference between the two is that triceratops had three horns on its bony face while Pentaceratops has five.

Paleos find fossilized dinosaur pee

To be accurate, what they found is urolites, which are fossils of sand impacted by dinosaurs urinating on them at high speed. How could the paleos possibly know that? Put otherwise, who else would have been peeing on the sand with a force strong enough to leave impressions that would fossilize? The urolites were found in a lower Cretaceous formation in So Paulo state, Brazil; the scientists comment that they look a lot like what happens when ostriches eliminate liquid waste in sand.

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