People have searched for the truth about dinosaurs for centuries. While previous generations may have considered them dragon remnants or fossils placed into the ground by God to test humanity's faith, the real picture has become clearer with each new dinosaur discovery. Research has also illuminated the similarities between dinosaurs and birds - namely, dinosaurs had feathers, among other bird-like traits.
Several of the most important questions, like learning how dinosaurs behaved or what they looked and sounded like, have ambiguous answers at best. Dino researchers have dug up fossils and examined them for generations, but now some question the validity of a few widely believed conclusions. This is happening across the field, with new archaeological discoveries constantly challenging our long-held notions about the ancient, and prehistoric, world.
Along with the discovery of many new dinosaur species, our knowledge about dinosaurs has completely changed. Check out the most shocking facts about these giants.
Paleontologist Takuya Imai and colleagues discovered the well-preserved fossil of an Early Cretaceous bird in Japan in 2013. The skeleton, called the Fukuipteryx prima, or F. prima, is the first modern bird recorded outside northeastern China, according to a study published in Nature in November 2019. The study further suggests finding a modern bird skeleton outside China "increases our understanding about the complex morphological evolution in early birds with the presence of particularly primitive features in young individuals," given the animal's assumed age of about 1 year.
Imai told Smithsonian magazine researchers "were not expecting to find such good material from a fossil bird." Similar fossils discovered in China were often squished and incomplete, whereas this one was three-dimensionally preserved. And though the F. prima skeleton is assumed to be nearly 120 million years old, it looks similar to birds that evolved 30 million years earlier in the Jurassic period.
One of the most important features of the F. prima fossil might be its tailbone, also seen seen in birds today and thought to be a marker of birds' evolution from dinosaurs.
The Suskityrannus hazelae lived about 92 million years ago, is approximately three feet tall, and has similar skeletal features to the Tyrannosaurus rex. Just over 20 years ago, paleontologists discovered a couple of partial skeletons in New Mexico that promised insight into a new species. The fossils did not provide enough information to really understand who the creature was, however, according to Virginia Tech scientist Sterling Nesbitt who is responsible for unearthing one of the remains.
There have been developments in recent years that allowed paleontologists to build the Tyrannosaurus family tree, and given the S. hazelae fossils feature signature structural similarities to the T-Rex, scientists have deduced the two species are related.
Robert Denton, a geologist at Terracon in Ashburn, Virginia, says the S. hazelae have strong feet and a strong jaw, which allows it to optimally crush its prey, just like the T-Rex. Given the size of the S. hazelae, scientists believe the T-Rex must have developed their predatory features while they were still quite small.
Millions of years before the T. Rex took on the title of the "lizard king," an iguana-sized archosaur reigned over Antarctica. Scientists discovered a 250 million-year-old fossil that allowed them to identify that the reptile was likely four to five feet long and ran along the ground. They call it the Antarctanax shackletoni which means "Antarctica King."
Brandon Peecook, head researcher at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, told Live Science that the creature "doesn't have any adaptations in its feet that would make [him] think it lived in the trees or that it's a burrower."
The discovery of the Antarctanax shackletoni allows paleontologists more insight into the evolution and ultimate extinction of the dinosaurs because it suggests "all these other crazy lineages must have existed."
In September of 2018, a new dinosaur claimed the top spot as largest animal on Earth. Researchers in South Africa revealed a new, giant relative of the brontosaurus estimated to have been nearly twice the size of the massive African elephant, based on its restored fossil. Named “Ledumahadi mafube” - or “a giant thunderclap at dawn” in the local language of Sesotho - researchers now believe this dinosaur was one of the largest animals on Earth during the early days of the planet’s existence, about 200 millions years ago. These 26,000-pound creatures were most likely related to the giant dinosaurs inhabiting what is modern-day Argentina, when Pangaea made overland transport more accessible.
Reportedly, the Ledumahadi is closely related to sauropod dinosaurs - similar to the brontosaurus. But unlike the famous four-legged, plant-eating bronty, the Ledumahadi is believed to have been what researchers call a “transitional” dinosaur, or what CNN described as “an evolutionary experiment… during the early Jurassic period [in which] the forelimbs of this dinosaur are more ‘crouched,’ while being very thick to support its giant body.”
This presumably means the dinosaur may actually have evolved from two-legged ancestors, but scientists posit the way in which it evolved to four legs helped its digestive system handle a more vegetarian-based diet.