Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hypsilophodon - Facts and Figures

Hypsilophodon - Facts and Figures Name: Hypsilophodon (Greek for Hypsilophus-toothed); pronounced HIP-sih-LOAF-oh-don Habitat: Forests of western Europe Historical Period: Middle Cretaceous (125-120 million years ago) Size and Weight: About five feet long and 50 pounds Diet: Plants Distinguishing Characteristics: Small size; bipedal posture; numerous teeth lining cheeks About Hypsilophodon The initial fossil specimens of Hypsilophodon were discovered in England in 1849, but it wasnt until 20 years later that they were recognized as belonging to an entirely new genus of dinosaur, and not to a juvenile Iguanodon (as paleontologists first believed). That wasnt the only misconception about Hypsilophodon: nineteenth-century scientists once speculated that this dinosaur lived high up in the branches of trees (since they couldnt imagine such a puny beast holding its own against contemporary giants like Megalosaurus) and/or walked on all fours, and some naturalists even thought it had armor plating on its skin! Heres what we do know about Hypsilophodon: this roughly human-sized dinosaur appears to have been built for speed, with long legs and a long, straight, stiff tail, which it held parallel to the ground for balance. Since we know from the shape and arrangement of its teeth that Hypsilophodon was a herbivore (technically a type of small, slender dinosaur known as an ornithopod), we can surmise that it evolved its sprinting ability as a way of escaping the large theropods (i.e., meat-eating dinosaurs) of its middle Cretaceous habitat, such as (possibly) Baryonyx and Eotyrannus. We also know that Hypsilophodon was closely related to Valdosaurus, another small ornithopod discovered on Englands Isle of Wight. Because it was discovered so early in the history of paleontology, Hypsilophodon is a case study in confusion. (Even this dinosaurs name is widely misunderstood: it technically means Hypsilophus-toothed, after a genus of modern lizard, in the same way that Iguanodon means Iguana-toothed, back when naturalists thought it actually resembled an iguana.) The fact is that it took decades for early paleontologists to reconstruct the ornithopod family tree, to which Hypsilophodon belongs, and even today ornithopods as a whole are virtually ignored by the general public, which prefers terrrifying meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex or gigantic sauropods like Diplodocus.

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