Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tsintaosaurus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Today, we are looking at Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus!   Tsintaosaurus lived in what is now China during the Late Cretaceous, about 70 million years ago.  Its name translates to "Tsintao (city in China where it was discovered, now called Qingdao) Lizard Spike Nose".  It was a hadrosaur, or "duck-billed dinosaur", sporting the typical broad bill in the front of its skull and hundreds of small teeth in the back of its mouth to help it eat plants.  Tsintaosaurus measured about thirty feet long from snout to tail and could have walked on all fours or just its hind legs if it needed to. 

Tsintaosaurus skeletal mount.

There were many interesting hadrosaurs sporting fancy crests atop their skulls.  The function of these crests has been explained on here before.  When the remains of Tsintaosaurus were first discovered back in the nineteen fifties the skull had a long, skinny, rod-shaped piece of bone jutting out from the front.  It sort of looked like a unicorn's horn...or an erect penis.  Then paleo-artists from across the globe got together and had a big, fancy, official paleo-artist meeting where they agreed to ALWAYS depict Tsintaosaurus having two round, inflatable air sacs under its crest so that the whole thing looked like an erect penis and testicles dangling atop the poor creature's face.  They also all agreed to make Tsintaosaurus green...ALWAYS green.  Seriously, google search images of Tsintaosaurus.  All you will get is green dinosaurs with bright orange or yellow dongs on their heads.  (I am also guilty of having colored this animal green in a reconstruction from 2010 but I was pretty reserved on the testicle sacs trend I am proud to say.)

Nothing but green dinosaurs with dick-and-balls crests all around.  Big photo is of the hilarious plastic model by the company, CollectA.  It's pretty much the crowned jewel of my plastic dinosaur collection.

Tsintaousaurus proudly rocked this phallic crest until the early nineties when a few paleontologists proposed that this rod-shaped piece of bone was actually supposed to be attached to the snout and had just gotten bent and warped during the fossilization process.  For a few years after that poor Tsintaosaurus had no interesting crest at all until more specimens were discovered, all sporting the same pointy unicorn crests.  This proved that it was not just a part of the snout after all.  Yay!

Diagram of a more complete Tsintaosaurus skull from the 2013 paper.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago in 2013 that information was released about some new Tsintaosaurus fossils that were found.  As it turns out, there were actually a lot of missing pieces that would have attached to the original rod-shaped bone which was only one part of a bigger, more complex structure.  Tsintaosaurus in reality would have had a more broad, curvy crest that started at the snout and went all around behind the head.  It looks like the pope's hat.  If the term "pope dinosaur" catches on to describe Tsintaosaurus remember, you heard it here first!

I illustrated a little timeline.

This most recent discovery tells us more about Tsintaosaurus than just how it looked.  The new crest bones suggest that Tsintaosaurus would have had hollow chambers within for making loud noises much like the mechanics of a brass musical instrument.  Previously it was believed that Tsintaosaurus may have been related to hadrosaurs with solid crests devoid of hollow chambers and tubes or no crests at all.  We now think it was closer to hadrosaurs like Parasaurolophus which did possess hollow tubes within a large crest.

All that being said I decided to paint an updated reconstruction of Tsintaosaurus with the new crest and no hint of green whatsoever!  Behold!

Tsintaosaurus spinorhinus by Christopher DiPiazza.

That's all for this week!  As always please comment below or on our facebook page.


Prieto-Márquez, A.; Wagner J.R. (2013). "The ‘Unicorn’ Dinosaur That Wasn’t: A New Reconstruction of the Crest of Tsintaosaurus and the Early Evolution of the Lambeosaurine Crest and Rostrum.". PLoS ONE 8 (11): e82268. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082268. Retrieved 23 November 2013.

Young, C.-C., 1958, "The dinosaurian remains of Laiyang, Shantung", Palaeontologia Sinica, New Series C, Whole Number 42(16): 1-138

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