Stegosaurus Fossils Shed Light on Extinct Dinosuar

Standing Adult Stegosaurus FossilStegosaurus is a well-known and popular dinosaur, and is instantly recognizable with their large body and gigantic plates along their back. But did you know that those plates are actually bones that adapted to form the signature plates we automatically associate with them today? That’s why they have been preserved so well today, allowing us to know that they existed at all. There were 17 of these plates and the strange thing is, while they are bone, they are not attached to the skeleton at all and instead are only connected by skin and tissue. Initially, scientists thought that the plates might have laid flat on their backs like armor, but after uncovering a skeleton which had been held intact by the mud and dirt, it was revealed that they actually stood upright.

 

It is still unknown exactly what the plates were used for. Some think it would have been used to ward off predators, of which there were many. Stegosaurus was very slow, moving at a top speed of five miles per hour, but had a spiked tail to attack with. Another theory is that the plates were used to regulate body heat. Scientists can tell from grooves in the plates’ surfaces that there was a network of blood vessels running along them which would have allowed to dinosaur to change the amount of heat moving throughout their body.

 

Adult Stegosaurus Preserved in RockStegosaurus lived during the Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. Stegosaurus fossils have been found in the West of North America (it is the state fossil of Colorado) as well as in some parts of Europe. When Stegosaurus was named by O. C. Marsh in the late 1800s, when it was still thought that the plates would have laid flat, the name Stegosaurus given, meaning “roof lizard” because the plates looked like shingles or roof tiles.

 

Full Grown StegosaurusThe Stegosaurus’ brain was exceptionally small, about the size of a ping pong ball compared to an animal that weighed five tons. Scientists can tell this by looking at the brain cavity within the skull. They think that because their brain were so small, they must have been very slow-moving and fairly unintelligent. However, the actual anatomy of the brain, which sections were what size and the complexity, are still unknown so one can’t be known for sure how smart the Stegosaurus was.  We talk about this when we talk about fossils and I am going to mention it again.  Our understanding of extinct animals is limited to the fossil remains we find and our knowledge of other similar animals.  Scientists can make guesses as to how smart an animal might have been or how fast they moved but without the actual soft tissues, it will remain uncertain.  Even something as basic as the skin coloring of extinct animals is mostly educated guesswork.

There is some debate amongst taxonomists about whether there are multiple species of Stegosaurus. Some believe that there are three or four species of Stegosaurus owing to the variation seen in fossils. Others think that these differences are simply the ability for variation within a single species, such as how all domestic dogs are the same species, though we can see tremendous variation in their size and appearance.  Perhaps someday science will make a discovery that points to one answer but until then, it is left open for debate.

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Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed reading about Stegosauruses and maybe even learned something you didn’t know before. We publish a new blog every Tuesday and Friday and so, until next time, goodbye!

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