New Dinosaur With Rows of Bristles On its Head Like a Toothbrush Has Been Discovered
Researchers say this strange, dome-headed, bristle-bristling dino from 68 million years ago has traces of keratin, what fingernails and rhino horn are made of, sticking up from its skull.
The paleontologists who discovered the beast completed a CT scan on the partially-completed skull and revealed these keratin bristles, described as giving the animal the appearance of having a “brush cut.”
The animal is called Platytholus clemensi, and is a type of pachycephalosaur discovered in 2011 in Montana’s Hell Creek Formation. It was a plant-eating dinosaur that grew up to 15 feet long and walked on two legs.
Dinosaur skulls sport an amazing variety of bony ornaments, ranging from the horns of Triceratops and the mohawk-like crests of hadrosaurs to the bumps and knobs covering the head of Tyrannosaurus rex.
There is a theory that pachycephalosaurs bashed heads in courtship rituals much like some mammals do today. But despite a gash being discovered on the skull which had healed up, the researchers say there is no real evidence to support this, and the discovery of bristles is currently considered more like an elaborate headdress.
“We don’t know the exact shape of what was covering the dome, but it had this vertical component that we interpret as covered with keratin,” said Dr. Mark Goodwin of the University of California, Berkeley. “A bristly, flat-topped covering biologically makes sense. Animals change or use certain features, particularly on the skull, for multiple functions.”
The head wound is about half an inch deep but it could have been caused by anything from a falling rock to a chance encounter with a tree or another dinosaur.
“We see probably the first unequivocal evidence of trauma in the head of any pachycephalosaur, where the bone was actually ejected from the dome somehow and healed partially in life,” said Dr. Goodwin. “We don’t know how that was caused. It could be head-butting—we don’t dispute that.”
However his colleague and co-author of the paper describing the curious animal, Dr. John Horner at the University of California, Orange, believes that since Dinosaurs’ closest living relatives are birds, they should look at skull ornamentation among them, rather than their distant lizard precursors as a guide for what the purpose of these bristles was.
“That’s the first place everybody wants to go—let’s crash them together. And, you know, we just don’t see any evidence of it, histologically,” said Dr. Horner. “Any features, any accouterments that we find on the heads of dinosaurs, I think, are all display—it’s all about display.”
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He said that reptiles and birds, the closest relatives to dinosaurs, have head ornamentation for display and rarely butt heads like mammals such as sheep. While crocodiles bash their heads together over territorial and mating disputes, sometimes for hours, dinosaurs diverged from crocodiles more than 200 million years before this animal was living.
Pachycephalosaurs also lack a pneumatic chamber above the braincase, as found in bighorn sheep, which protects their brain from injury.
“I don’t see any reason to turn dinosaurs into mammals, rather than just trying to figure out what they might be doing as bird-like reptiles,” Dr. Horner said.
The study in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology said that blood vessels in the skull ended abruptly at the surface of the dome, indicating that the blood originally fed some tissue that was sitting atop the dome.
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And as the vessels were perpendicular to the surface they most likely fed a vertical structure.
“What we see are these vertical canals coming to the surface, which suggests that there might be keratin on top, but it’s oriented vertically,” Horner continued.
“I think these pachycephalosaurs had something on top of their head that we don’t know about. I don’t think they were just domes. I think there was some elaborate display on top of their head.”
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The authors added that it could have been high, colored, or even subject to changes in color depending on the seasons. It suggests they were used for sexual display and courting, though they may have been used to butt the flanks, as opposed to the heads, of male rivals.
Dr. Goodwin said he suspects that dinosaurs likely distinguished gender by color, as do most modern birds, such as cassowaries, peafowls, and toucans, which have bright integumental colors around the face and head for visual communication.
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How wildfire smoke can harm your health, even from far away
Christopher T. Migliaccio, University of Montana
Smoke from more than 200 wildfires burning across Canada has been turning skies hazy in North American cities far from the flames. We asked Chris Migliaccio, a toxicologist at the University of Montana who studies the impact of wildfire smoke on human health, about the health risks people can face when smoke blows in from distant wildfires.
What’s in wildfire smoke that’s a problem?
When we talk about air quality, we often talk about PM2.5. That’s particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller … small enough that it can travel deep into the lungs.
Exposure to PM2.5 from smoke or other air pollution, such as vehicle emissions, can exacerbate health conditions like asthma. It can also reduce lung function in ways that can worsen existing respiratory problems and even heart disease.
But the term PM2.5 only tells you about size, not composition. What is burning can make a significant difference in the chemistry.
In the northern Rockies, where I live, vegetation fuels most fires. But not all vegetation is the same. If the fire is in the wildland urban interface, manufactured fuels from homes and vehicles may also be burning. And that’s going to create its own toxic chemistry, as well. Chemists often talk about volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, which result when biomass and other matter burn) having the potential to harm human health.
How does inhaling wildfire smoke harm human health?
If you have ever been around a campfire and got a blast of smoke in your face, you probably had some irritation. With exposure to wildfire smoke, you might get some irritation in the nose and throat and maybe some inflammation. If you’re healthy, your body, for the most part, will be able to handle it.
As with a lot of things, the dose makes the poison. Almost anything can be harmful at a certain dose.
Generally, cells in the lungs, called alveolar macrophages, will pick up the particulates and clear them out … at reasonable doses. It’s when the system gets overwhelmed that you can have a problem.
One concern is that smoke can suppress macrophage function, altering it enough that you become more susceptible to respiratory infection. A colleague who looked at lag time in the effect of wildfire smoke exposure found an increase in influenza cases after a bad fire season. Studies in developing countries have also found increases in respiratory infections with people who are cooking on open fires in homes.
The stress of an inflammatory response can also exacerbate existing health problems. Being exposed to wood smoke won’t independently cause someone to have a heart attack. But if they have underlying risk factors, such as significant plaque buildup, the added stress can increase the risk.
Researchers are also studying potential effects on the brain and nervous system from inhaled particulate matter.
Long-distance smoke and toxicity
When smoke blows over long distances, does its toxicity change? We know that the chemistry of wildfire smoke changes. The longer it’s in the atmosphere, the more ultraviolet light will alter the chemistry. But we still have a lot to learn.
Researchers have found that there seems to be a higher level of oxidation, so oxidants and free radicals are being generated the longer smoke is in the air. The specific health effects aren’t yet clear, but there’s some indication that more exposure leads to greater health effects.
The supposition is that more free radicals are generated the longer smoke is exposed to UV light, so there’s a greater potential for health harm. A lot of that, again, comes down to dose.
Chances are, if you’re a healthy individual, going for a bike ride or a hike in light haze won’t be a big deal, and your body will be able to recover.
If you’re doing that every day for a month in wildfire smoke, however, that raises more concerns. I’ve worked on studies with residents at Seeley Lake in Montana who were exposed to hazardous levels of PM2.5 from wildfire smoke for 49 days in 2017. We found a decrease in lung function a year later. No one was on oxygen, but there was a significant drop.
This is a relatively new area of research, and there’s still a lot we’re learning, especially with the increase in wildfire activity as the planet warms.
Take precautions to reduce your risk from wildfire smoke
If there is smoke in the air, you want to decrease your exposure.
Can you completely avoid the smoke? Not unless you’re in a hermetically sealed home. The PM levels aren’t much different indoors and out unless you have a really good HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system, such as those with MERV 15 or better filters. But going inside decreases your activity, so your breathing rate is slower and the amount of smoke you’re inhaling is likely lower.
We also tend to advise people that if you’re in a susceptible group, such as those with asthma, create a safe space at home and in the office with a high-level stand-alone air filtration system to create a space with cleaner air.
Some masks can help. It doesn’t hurt to have a high-quality N95 mask. Just wearing a cloth mask won’t do much, though.
Most states have air quality monitors that can give you a sense of how bad the air quality is, so check those sites and act accordingly.
Christopher T. Migliaccio, Research Associate Professor in Toxicology, University of Montana.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Bottom line: Wildfire smoke can affect human health even from far away. Learn how to take precautions to reduce your risk.
Read more: Canadian wildfires continue to rage with a smoky central U.S.
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Media we love: The Doomsday Book
Media we love: The Doomsday Book
Kelly Kizer Whitt recommends The Doomsday Book
In The Doomsday Book, Marshall Brain, the creator of HowStuffWorks.com, presents us with 25 scenarios that could destroy a city, country or the world. He divides his book into three parts: man-made disasters, natural disasters and science fiction made real.
Brain eases into the catastrophes to come with a quirky scenario that he calls “Splitting the United States in Half”. It details a situation I’d never head of before. In Montana is a lake called Ft. Peck held back by a massive earthen dam. He explains how, if the dam failed, the water rushing downstream would take out one dam after another until a tremendous wall of water would wash away Kansas City, among others, before finding its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The mass of water would wipe out all the bridges and train trestles, cutting the western half of the United States off from the eastern half.
For every scenario, Brain reviews the science behind it and possible preventions, when there are any. Some of the other topics in man-made disasters include EMP attacks, runaway global warming, pandemics and biological attacks, and the opioid crisis.
Then Brain moves onto natural disasters, the kind you’ve seen in epic and not-so-epic disaster movies. Among the topics are asteroid strikes, supervolcanoes, earthquakes, supertsunamis, coronal mass ejections, hurricanes and more. The ocean acidification chapter felt especially prescient as I read it in the spring of 2023. Sea-surface temperatures have shot to record highs the past couple months. About 1/3 of the carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels dissolves in the ocean. The carbonic acid created makes the oceans more acidic, and an ocean pH of 7.8 may be the tipping point to cause a massive die-off of marine life. As the book states:
At least 50% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere comes from plankton and algae in the ocean. If we allow ocean acidification to kill off the plankton, the situation could become dire for humans and other land animals when oxygen levels in the atmosphere decline.
Science fiction made real
In the final section, science fiction made real, Brain examines a robot takeover, alien invasion and gray goo. But my favorite topic (if you can say that about Doomsday scenarios) was the Relativistic Kill Vehicle (RKV).
In case you, too, had never heard of this concept before, here’s a quick overview. An alien civilization shoots an object toward us at near the speed of light. The vehicle doesn’t even have to be large. An object just a foot or two in diameter moving at just half the speed of light (93,000 miles per second) would be disastrous. So, for example, a baseball moving at that speed would have the kinetic energy of 25 times the Hiroshima bomb. A RKV the size of a telephone pole (30 feet by 1 foot) and made of uranium traveling at that same speed would have the energy of 9 million Hiroshima bombs.
Of course, the aliens would have to be pretty good at math to shoot an object from a great distance at a small, moving object (Earth). Just for fun I looked into our own space probes to see if they could be RKVs for other planets they encounter. Voyager 1, the faster of the two Voyager spacecraft, is currently moving at about 10 miles per second. So, while incredibly fast (and destructive if it hit somewhere), maybe not in the range of an RKV.
Media we love! EarthSky Editors share their favorite Earth- and space-based books, TV shows, movies, games, podcasts, YouTube videos and more.
Bottom line: In this installment of Media we love, EarthSky editor Kelly Kizer Whitt recommends The Doomsday Book.
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