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Dinosaurs You Should Know: The Triassic Beast Who Rocked the World (A History Just For Kids)

Dinosaurs You Should Know: The Triassic Beast Who Rocked the World (A History Just For Kids)

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Dinosaurs You Should Know: The Triassic Beast Who Rocked the World (A History Just For Kids)

Автором BookCaps

оценки:
4/5 (1 оценка)
Длина:
310 pages
3 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Aug 2, 2012
ISBN:
9781476283753
Формат:
Книге

Описание

Movies have capitalized on dinosaurs for years; they've often put the wrong idea in people’s heads about what they looked like or even acted like. Dinosaurs that have been tower in height on screen, are often smaller (and sometimes larger) than what we have been led to believe; this book paints a picture of six of the most famous dinosaurs who have roamed the Earth.

In this book, you'll learn all about what made this massive giant great--from what they looked like and ate to where they lived and what they did all day.
The book covers the following dinosaurs:
Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Velociraptor

This is an anthology of six books; each book may also be purchased individually. Just search the dinosaurs name and “KidsCap.”

KidCaps is an imprint of BookCaps; each month we are adding more history books (just for kids!) to our library. Stop by our website to learn more.

Издатель:
Издано:
Aug 2, 2012
ISBN:
9781476283753
Формат:
Книге

Об авторе

We all need refreshers every now and then. Whether you are a student trying to cram for that big final, or someone just trying to understand a book more, BookCaps can help. We are a small, but growing company, and are adding titles every month. Visit www.bookcaps.com to see more of our books, or contact us with any questions.


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Dinosaurs You Should Know - BookCaps

Introduction

During the height of the Jurassic period, 150 million years ago, giant dinosaurs strode the Earth and made the ground shake under their mighty footfalls. You've probably seen these spectacular long-necked dinosaurs in movies like Jurassic Park and in paintings and drawings in natural history books. These creatures go by the name of Apatosaurus (though you've probably heard of them as Brontosaurus, too, since that was their name for many years, and a few people still use it).

Not too many decades ago, people thought that Apatosaurus was a slow, cold-blooded animal that dragged its long tail on the ground and had to live in hot tropical swamps to support its huge weight. Now we know better – scientists have studied Apatosaurus and all the dinosaurs, and found overwhelming evidence that they were interesting, active, alert creatures with strange adaptations and vigorous, intriguing lives. Far from being slow and sluggish, Apatosaurus was strong and energetic.

The world of 150 million years ago was very different from the world of today. The continents were squashed together into two big supercontinents, and the temperatures were warmer. There was no ice at the poles and there were a lot of shallow tropical oceans over areas that are dry land today, like Western Europe. Huge conifers (pine tree relatives) grew in forests across a lot of the globe, with warm plains in between.

This was the world where Apatosaurus lived – a huge plant-eating dinosaur with a long neck – sharing the scene with the famous meat-eater Allosaurus and the spiky-backed, mace-tailed dinosaur Stegosaurus. Fascinatingly enough, there were a bunch of other long-necked, massive dinosaurs living at the same time and in the same general region, though they might have lived in slightly different habitats – including Diplodocus and Camarasaurus.

Scientists have learned a lot about the spectacular story of Apatosaurus, a sauropod dinosaur that weighed as much as four modern elephants, and which seems to have been able to crack its tail like a whip and make a noise as loud as a cannon!

Chapter 1: What Did They Look Like?

Imagine a huge elephant-like body on four legs thick as pillars or big tree trunks, standing three times taller than a tall man and covered in a smooth, lightly scaly hide. At one end, put a long neck that stretches out like a smooth, muscular crane boom, with a head about the size of a horse's head on it (making it look extremely small). At the other end of the animal, put a tail that sticks out into the air parallel with the ground, and becomes very slender towards its far end, no thicker than a garden hose.

When you looked closer, you would see that the Apatosaurus had a big fleshy ridge down its back, which wouldn't look out of place on the head of a science fiction alien. This is because it had tall bones sticking up out of its backbone, which probably supported a huge bundle of tendons that ran the animal's whole length. These tendons would to help keep the animal from breaking under its own weight, like the cables on a suspension bridge. There might have been a frill of short spikes sticking up from the top of this muscular ridge, or there might not – there isn't enough proof one way or the other yet.

There's no doubting that Apatosaurus was huge. There are no land animals alive today as big as Apatosaurus, not even elephants – an elephant would look a lot smaller when standing next to an Apatosaurus. The biggest Apatosaurus that we know of was about 72 feet long, whereas the biggest male African elephant today measures only about 25 feet (which is pretty big, too). The biggest ones stood about 16 feet high at the middle of their backs, which arched up and were a bit higher than their shoulders or hips.

Apatosaurus weighed about 25 tons at a minimum, and maybe as much as 38 tons. The higher number is probably wrong, because that's based on the old fat swamp dwelling lizard view of the Apatosaurus. The lean, muscular Apatosaurus that scientists now think existed was probably closer to 20 to 25 tons – which still means that it weighed as much as a Soviet T-34 tank from World War II, and about fifty times as much as a medium sized passenger car!

Was Apatosaurus the Biggest Land Animal Ever?

Hearing how big Apatosaurus was, one of the first questions you're probably thinking is whether this sauropod dinosaur was the biggest land animal ever? Although 25 tons puts it into the top ranks of animal sizes, the answer is no – Apatosaurus wasn't the biggest. In fact, there was a huge rhino from the Old World, Indricotherium, which weighed just as much, proving that even mammals can get that big when the circumstances are right. Indricotherium lived long after Apatosaurus was extinct, about 25 million years ago.

There were even bigger sauropod dinosaurs (which looked quite similar to Apatosaurus) from the titanosaur family, which came from what's now South America, but nobody has found a complete fossil yet, so just how big they were is anyone's guess. Argentinosaurus was probably close to 100 feet long and, at the best estimate, weighed 80 tons. There are some wild guesses that it might have weighed over a hundred tons, but these are probably wrong. Paralititan, another monstrously big dinosaur, weighed around 65 tons.

So, all in all, Apatosaurus was a middle sized sauropod dinosaur, huge though it looks to us.

Why did Apatosaurus get so big?

There had to be a good reason for Apatosaurus to get as big as it did – a lot of evolutionary effort went into making such vast land animals. Scientists have been puzzling over this and think they've found an answer – being big helps an animal survive on less food, strange as that sounds.

And, of course, it made them pretty much immune to attack by the predators of their day. To reach these ideas, scientists looked at big plant-eaters that are alive today, like elephants and rhinos, to see the reason why they get so big in our modern day world.

The reason that plant-eaters get so big in the hot climates, these researchers found, is that a big animal gets more nutrition out of its food. Since plant material doesn't have a lot of calories for basic energy, plant-eaters then and now need a lot of bacteria in their stomachs to help them break down the cellulose and get the nutrition out of it.

Cellulose is very hard to digest, so these tiny organisms live in the stomachs of herbivores and eat the plant matter, breaking it down into compounds the animal can actually absorb into its bloodstream. The termites that may infest your house use bacteria in the same way – to reduce the cellulose to usable food.

That's why herbivores have stomachs which are often like a series of vats where the plant matter ferments and releases its nutrients. In a small plant-eater like a rabbit, the plant material moves through the digestive system fast, so they need to eat a lot because only a few calories are extracted from each stomach full of leaves and shoots.

In a big plant-eater, though, plants stay in the stomach for a much longer time, and the animal gets a lot more energy and calories because they're more thoroughly digested. This is very important in the savannahs where Apatosaurus lived, because there's a lot of coarse, low calorie grazing material there. A small animal would risk starving, but a big animal can fill its stomach and then have plenty of energy to search for more plants to eat. So, being big in an open prairie gives a major advantage to the animal, like Apatosaurus, that makes use of this strategy.

It's also pretty hard to hide on the plains. Unless an animal is so small that it can conceal itself in the grass (or ferns, in the Jurassic landscape), it's going to stick out like a sore thumb in the flatlands. So, being big makes it a lot harder for predators to kill an animal. Apatosaurus was a walking fortress when it was an adult, and didn't have to fear many meat-eaters – another happy result of its evolutionary course to being one of the biggest animals on the Jurassic plains.

Apatosaurus' neck

The head and neck of Apatosaurus are the most defining parts of the animal when we look at it, and there's no doubt that sauropod dinosaurs had some of the longest necks in history! That long neck is a miracle of natural engineering, not least because Apatosaurus actually managed to pump enough blood up it to keep its brain working, and because it could clearly be lifted up and down, too.

For a long time, scientists were puzzled about how Apatosaurus could lift their necks – yet they clearly could, and were even able to bent their neck into a reverse U so that they could look straight behind them. Computer models show that Apatosaurus' neck was very flexible, and it seems unlikely it would evolve to be able to move in a direction the dinosaur was too weak to move it in. Nature and evolution do not make too many mistakes.

Then, someone discovered that Apatosaurus had not only hollow bones with air inside them – like birds have – but also internal air sacs. These sacs kept the body's shape, but made it a lot lighter at the same time. There were several huge air sacs in the neck, which helped to make it much less unwieldy, quick to raise and lower, and agile in bending and swinging.

Apatosaurus' amazing tail

Though Apatosaurus' long, crane-like neck was remarkable enough, it's at the other end of the animal that an even more amazing thing is to be found. Apatosaurus' huge tail stood out in the air, held up by robust bones, strong muscles and tendons, and bony stiffening rods. The tail didn't drag on the ground like so many almost comical older depictions of this dinosaur show it. It could also flex from side to side and up and down quite a bit.

The weirdest secret of the tail was right at its end, however. Down at this point, a long section of tail was very slender, though strong, supple, and highly reinforced. In fact, a good part of this length wasn't much bigger than a garden hose. Scientists didn't think much about this, until one of them had a sudden insight.

Whips produce a cracking sound because the end of the whip, thrown through the air by the wave motion of the long, flexible whipcord, moves faster than sound and makes a tiny sonic boom. That's what results in the snapping sound from a whip in an old cowboy movie – it's actually the same thing as a jet aircraft breaking the sound barrier and making a boom, just that it's a lot smaller.

This scientist noticed that Apatosaurus tails were constructed almost exactly like whips – huge ones, 20 or 30 feet long, with colossal muscles to snap them. Working from this, he was able to model (using advanced computers) that Apatosaurus could move its tail enough to snap the end like a whip, and that the tail was tough enough to stand up to this. The resulting whipcrack would be about 200 decibels – as loud as a 12" naval gun firing a round from 10 feet away! This gigantic crashing boom would be deafening at close range, and could be heard rolling over the plains for many miles like thunder.

Tail booms were probably used for contests over mates or to keep in contact with distant herd members. However, 200 decibels is a lot of sound energy. In fact, that's the fatal threshold for humans exposed to the sound. Being within 20 or 30 feet of an Apatosaurus tail snap would kill most people instantly just from the shock of the sound crashing through the air.

Though there is no proof either way, it's exciting to speculate on whether Apatosaurus used this as a defense against predators. We know that these dinosaurs didn't hit other animals with their tails, because the bones don't show any stress fractures. But that doesn't mean they couldn't have used them for defense. Six or seven Apatosaurus cracking their tails towards a predator, filling the air with literally deafening crashes, would be a terrifying, deafening, painful experience for even an Allosaurus.

A very close, 200-decibel crack could have stunned larger predators and killed smaller ones outright (as it would certainly do to people). There is almost no way to prove or disprove if Apatosaurus used sonic defenses against predators, but if they did – and they apparently had the physical ability to – then this would be another unique feature of these Jurassic giants and their kin.

Was Apatosaurus warm-blooded?

Ever since Robert Bakker published his book The Dinosaur Heresies a few decades ago, the exciting idea that dinosaurs were warm-blooded and very active has become more and more popular. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that the big meat-eaters were, including the structure of their bones and the fact that they were built to run fast and attack prey very vigorously.

Some scientists recently discovered that you can tell the average temperature of an animal by measuring the amount of oxygen-18 and carbon-13 in its tooth enamel. The reason why this is true is too complex to go into here. What's important to us is that these scientists tested the teeth of sauropod dinosaurs like Apatosaurus to see how high their bodily temperature was.

The readings show temperatures between 95 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit for these big dinosaurs – about the same temperature as a human (98.6 F). This means they had enough body heat to be just as active as a mammal. However, it doesn't really answer the question of whether they were warm-blooded or not – it just tells us that they weren't sluggish and lumbering creatures.

The size of Apatosaurus' ribcage tells scientists a lot about what kind of metabolism it had and how its body worked, too. It's also another glimpse of the amazing things that scientists can now learn about a creature that's been gone from the Earth for 150 million years just by looking at its bones. It's now certain that Apatosaurus didn't have lizard-like lungs, for example. Reptile lungs would have only been able to pull in 10% of the air that Apatosaurus needed for each breath, which means they couldn't have been alive with that lung system.

Mammal-type lungs could suck in enough air but would have needed to be bigger than the space inside Apatosaurus' ribs! So they couldn't have had lungs like we do. The only modern lungs that would work would be bird lungs (avian lungs). These have extra air sacs and a structure where the air flows all the way through, rather than filling the lung and then getting squeezed out of it. So Apatosaurus probably had bird-like lungs – another hint that dinosaurs were closely related to birds.

All of this matches a new theory – that Apatosaurus and other big sauropods weren't really either warm-blooded (supplying their own heat from inside) or cold-blooded (needing outside heat to get them moving and keeping them moving, like a lizard that has to bask in the sun to get warm enough to be able to run). Instead, they were what scientists are calling gigantothermic – which is fancy Latin for heated by bigness.

This means that Apatosaurus was probably cold-blooded in the strictest sense – that it didn't make its own heat – but that it was so huge that it only needed to get warmed up once and it would stay heated up for the rest of its life. The body was so massive that it trapped heat, and just moving around and being in the sun

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