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New Insights into Arctic-inhabiting Dinosaurs

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  • New Insights into Arctic-inhabiting Dinosaurs

    An intriguing story about just how much has been learned by looking at a huge pile of micro-fossils sifted from the frozen muck in Alaska. I should add that nothing found was startling in that there were already indications of it or, like in the case of dinosaurs being warm-blooded, was something already confirmed with a few species.

    I actually read this at a site that said this was first posted in the NYT -- but the NYT hadn't posted it yet

    Source: Cool Fossils: Alaska Digs Reveal Dinosaurs’ Arctic Lives

    Baby dinosaur "microfossils" suggest that many species lived and thrived in some of the coldest parts of the planet

    The hot dinosaur has captured the public imagination. Our favorite prehistoric giants are often depicted roaming dry savannas or munching on tropical leaves.

    But some dinosaurs had a chiller lifestyle. Deposits of baby dinosaur bones and teeth in northern Alaska, reported Thursday in Current Biology, suggest thata number of species survived year-round above the Arctic Circle — enduring freezing temperatures, food shortages and four straight months of darkness, as well as the occasional snowstorm.

    The first polar dinosaur footprints were found in 1960, stomped into the Svalbard archipelago. Over the following decades, evidence of dinosaurs at both Arctic and Antarctic latitudes emerged. This led to curiosity about how they managed — especially in the northern regions, which, while warmer than they are today, still turned into frozen landscapes of perpetual night during winters.

    "How the heck did they do that?" said Patrick Druckenmiller, a paleontologist at the University of Alaska Museum of the North who worked on the new study. Perhaps the dinosaurs were snowbirds, spending summers up there before migrating south, he said. "Or did they somehow tough it out? Or do something crazy, like hibernation?"

    For this study, researchers headed to the Prince Creek Formation in northern Alaska, above the Arctic Circle and home to "the polarmost dinosaurs that we know of," Dr. Druckenmiller said.

    While the popular image of fossil-hunting also comes from warmer climates -- sun-baked paleontologists scratching for clues, femurs jutting out of the ground like hambones -- Prince Creek is less glamorous. "The ground is frozen, the bones are frozen," said Tyler Hunt, a Ph.D. student at Florida State University who worked on the project. "Everything is muddy."

    Over the course of several trips, Mr. Hunt, Dr. Druckenmiller and other researchers scooped icy sand and sludge out of the Prince Creek hillsides and let it thaw in the sun. They then sifted the dirt through ever-finer mesh screens, keeping anything bigger than a poppy seed. The haul was taken back to the lab, where scores of students and volunteers combed through it one tablespoon at a time under microscopes, checking for tiny shards of bones and teeth called microfossils.

    While frequently overlooked in favor of "larger, flashier" remains, microfossils "provide a window into the lives of baby dinosaurs," as well as the animals and plants they might have coexisted with, said Holly Woodward Ballard, a paleontologist at Oklahoma State University who was not involved with the study.

    The team found microfossils from at least seven different late Cretaceous dinosaur species, including tyrannosaurs, ridge-headed ceratopsians and duck-billed hadrosaurs.

    Finding evidence of such young dinosaurs -- including some that may have not yet hatched -- helps our understanding of the polar dinosaur lifestyle, Dr. Druckenmiller said. Recent estimates of dinosaur egg incubation times -- it may have taken up to six months in some cases -- makes the timeline for winter migration much too tight, he said, adding that they would have had to "step out of the egg and start running south."

    Instead, the dinosaurs must have found ways to keep themselves and their offspring warm and fed. It’s likely that some of them had downy feathers, Dr. Druckenmiller said. The finding also supports the increasingly popular idea that dinosaurs were not “coldblooded, lizardlike creatures,” but rather endotherms, able to create their own body heat, he said.

    Other behaviors, like hibernation, are "entirely possible," Dr. Ballard said, but have not yet been borne out by evidence at any fossil sites.

    "It’s exciting to see the whole story come together so beautifully," said David Fastovsky, a paleontologist at the University of Rhode Island who was also not involved.

    The team plans to head back to Prince Creek to uncover more details, looking for fossilized feathers and signs of cozy dinosaur burrows. When Mr. Hunt goes from sunny Florida to the chilly Arctic dig site, he thinks of the unlikely pioneers who came before him.

    "You don’t picture dinosaurs in snow, you know?" he said. "But clearly they could thrive up there."


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    Two nits to pick (although there are a few others if I was really feeling particularly cavil today)
    • tyrannosaurs, ceratopsians and hadrosaurs are not species. Tyrannosaurus rex is a species of tyrannosaurid. Tyrannosaurus is a genus of that family. Similar observations could be made for the other two
    • I don't know for sure but the Arctic Tern (a type of bird, and recall that birds evolved from dinosaurs) migrates 96,000 km (60,000 mi), from pole to pole, every year. They would certainly seem to "step out of the egg and start [flying] south" making such a prospect for some dinosaurs seem less ridiculous sounding. In fact the Tern isn't the only bird that does some serious traveling every year.

      17958 (1).jpeg
      Clickenate on to enbiggen

    I'm always still in trouble again

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