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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Triceratops Is No Slouch
24 May 2001 7:00 pm
One of the first dinosaurs ever to go on display has received an unprecedented high-tech upgrade. Scientists at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History today unveiled their new $1 million mounting of Triceratops horridus, made possible through scanning, computer modeling, and a highly accurate dog-sized replica. The new posture takes some of the sprawl out of the dinosaur's front limbs, solving the problem of how the creature stood.
The Triceratops made its public debut in 1905. At that time, dinosaurs were thought to be reptilian and cold-blooded, so the skeleton was assembled with its front limbs splayed out, much like a lizard. In the 1980s, researchers started thinking of such dinos as warm-blooded, leading some to envision Triceratops standing erect with its legs under its body, like an elephant.
In 1999, when Smithsonian curators removed the skeleton from display for repair, paleontologist and computer specialist Ralph Chapman began to study the bones. He and his colleagues scanned each bone to make a computer model that would help reveal how the animal walked. Because the original skeleton consisted of bones from a dozen or so individuals, the scans were also used to create plaster casts that fit together better. The skull, for example, was enlarged by 15%. New hind feet were added to replace the originals, which had belonged to a duck-billed dinosaur.
Before the skeleton was assembled, however, Chapman had a 1:6 scale model created from the computer files. "The miniature bones allowed us to play with the articulation," Chapman says. The scientists discovered that the shoulder joints would have worked smoothly only if the front limbs had been neither erect nor sprawled low to the ground, but in between.
The new assembly is "a robust solution to a long-standing problem," says paleontologist Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Dodson has long argued that the limbs must have fit this way, and he's thrilled with the posture. "I'm doing backflips," he says.