Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Morrison Biota

Stegosaurus lived in western North America during the Late Jurassic Period, about 150 million years ago (MYA). Today, we find its remains in the Morrison Formation, named after the tiny town of Morrison in Colorado. What was going on in Colorado at that time? What was the depositional environment like, the environment that laid down the sediment that would one day become the famed Morrison Formation?

Well, according to paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker in an article about the re-discovery in 2002 of some old paleontological quarries (CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE) in the Smithsonian Magazine, the environment was very much like the kind of environment seen in Uganda today: a “hot tropical woodland that was dry for most of the year.”

What about the animals, though? Dr. Bakker also said in the article that to “understand the Late Jurassic, you need to understand the common animals, which means Apatosaurus.” Most people are familiar with this massive animal: about 100 feet long (around the length of three school buses put end to end to end), and weighing around as much as eight African elephants, Apatosaurus was definitely a heavyweight of the Morrison biota!

What other animals were running around though? There are a great many dinosaurs, as well as many other animals, that were living in this area at that time, but in this post we are only going to look at one more: Camptosaurus and Allosaurus. All right, I lied. We’ll look at two more.

First off, we have Camptosaurus. To be honest, Camptosaurus doesn’t really look all that special. A small- to mid-sized ornithopod, Camptosaurus was only about fifteen feet long, and didn’t really appear to have any obvious defenses. However, discoveries of articulated Camptosaurus skeletons (indicating that the bones were fossilized were they were deposited, i.e. where the animal died, and weren’t washed together in a big mumble-jumble like at Dinosaur National Monument) in close conjunction with articulated Stegosaurus skeletons seems to indicate that these two herbivores liked to hang out together. But why? Why would they open themselves up to competition and potential conflict like that? Well, analysis of the brains and skulls of these two animals suggests that perhaps by hanging out together, the dinosaurian duo could avoid much deadlier conflict. Studies have shown that the sensory organs of Camptosaurus and Stegosaurus would have differed in very critical ways. The sense of Stegosaurus would have been akin to a rhinoceros, or perhaps myself as well (at least without my contacts), in that it would have had a pretty good sense of smell, but not very good vision. Camptosaurus, on the other hand, appears to have had quite acute vision, which has led to an interesting proposition by researchers: that Camptosaurus acted as a lookout for herds of Camptosaurus and Stegosaurus. If a predator was spotted (say, an Allosaurus or a Ceratosaurus), then Camptosaurus would have been able to alert the herd, and Stegosaurus would have been able to move to the forefront to defend them all against attack.

The last dinosaur that we are going to look at today is Allosaurus, a large, meat-eating theropod dinosaur. It occurs to me as I type this that I have done a very thorough job on Allosaurus before, so instead of typing this all again, I am going to be lazy and redirect you to another post that I did awhile back, entitled “23-Fact Tueday: Allosaurus.” Hidden within the post (but not too hard to find) are 23 Facts about Allosaurus. Yeah. Pretty much says it in the title. Anyways, check out that post to learn more about Allosaurus, as well as the rest of the Morrison ecosystem! And make sure to check back tomorrow, as we learn about stegosaurs from the rest of the world!

Want to learn more about Stegosaurus?  Well, check out the Homebase for Stegosaurus Week HERE to partake in more of the festivities!  

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