Friday, May 22, 2015

SALTASAURUS: Choosing What is Best

Drawing by Lady of Hats

The last of Dinosaurs with big noses (Macronaria) were the Titanosaurs, who lived from the late Jurassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period (about 65 million years ago). Like their name, Titanosaurs were huge. In addition to their size, these Dinosaurs had thick forearms, barrel-shaped bodies, and broad chests.
            Like many Titanosaurs, Saltasaurus had body amour, resembling that of modern crocodiles. In the late 1800s, paleontologists found fossils of circular and oval-shaped bony plates. These armored plates (called osteoderms) were about four inches (11 cm) in diameter. Since these plates were not the same as those from armored Dinosaurs such as Ankylosaurus, scientists were confused as to whether they belonged to a Dinosaur (and if they did, which one). Saltasaurus’ discovery in Argentina, in 1980 by Jose Bonaparte and Jaime Powell, solved this puzzle. When the scientists assembled her fossil bones, they realized that these round disks belonged on her back. These large bony plates of Saltasaurus went from her neck to her tail.
            The last of the Sauropods to evolve, Saltasaurus was still going strong at the end of the Mesozoic Era. Because few Sauropod fossils were found in the Northern Hemisphere, paleontologists believed that this Suborder of Dinosaurs had died out years earlier. However, They were abundant in South America. Separated from the other continents, South America hosted many Titanosaurs (who are Sauropods). For example, Saltasaurus was named for Salta City in Argentina, where she was found. In fact, Titanosaurs were the dominant plant eaters there and in Africa.
In Patagonia, paleontologists found the nesting grounds of Saltasaurus. Neatly spaced, each nest was carefully tended by the Mothers. Moreover, Saltasaurus Mothers would return to the same place at the same time to nest. Most scientists regard these signs that she was a good mother.
            Besides her scales, Saltasaurus had other unique features. Where her fingers should be, She had stumps. Moreover, her pencil-shaped teeth reminded scientists of Diplodocus (another Sauropod). (These two Dinosaurs had evolved their type of teeth separately.) Since She could not chew her food, Saltasaurus swallowed the leaves whole. Her huge stomach chamber did the digesting, fermenting the plant matter, and expelling the gases.    
            Though different from many other Titanosaurs, Saltasaurus chose what was best for Her. Her peg-like teeth could strip shrubs of their tough leaves. Her barrel-shaped body fermented her food. Her bony plates broke the teeth of an attacking predator. Though her choices may seem strange to others, She knows what works for Her. When you are faced with choices, remember what Saltasaurus teaches.

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