Our first Antarctic animal is a dinosaur. And its nickname is Elvisaurus.
Fortunately for this “frozen crested lizard”, it didn’t know Antarctica as the freezing hell sheet of today, but as a lush and chilly retreat, like a Scandinavian holiday. It was the second ever dinosaur found on the continent and the first one named, and now you’re probably wondering, “how the frozen hell do you find anything there, and how did you dig it out?”
To answer your first question, mysterious and (mostly) untouched Antarctica is a honey pot for scientists, and staggeringly not all of it is covered in snow all year round. Parts of the Transantarctic Mountains, for instance, and in 1991, two dino diggers called Elliot and Hammer came across the bones of Cryolophosaurus. It took them three weeks to excavate them, so to answer your second question, they sometimes use dynamite.
It would be worth an explosion though, because at 2.4m tall and 8m long, old Cryo turned out to be one of the biggest meat-eaters of its time, and with a funky bony quiff that gave it its nickname.
For a short while however it was embarrassingly uncool – it was found with a load of ribs shoved down its throat as if it had choked to death on its last meal. Its brain – lovingly rendered in 3D by the Natural History Museum of L.A:
was primitive for other carnivores on the block, so you’d be forgiven for thinking its stomach overrode all reason. Fortunately, it was redeemed when they realised they were bones from another Cryo, and had been shifted about by the passage of time rather than some kind of prehistoric eating contest.
Digging up a mountainside isn’t advisable at the best of times, and in this case, it left a dangerous overhang. While the palaeontologists were kicking around waiting for a team to come and remove it, they stumbled on the bones of an even bigger dino, this time with a long neck and a penchant for plants. So thanks for being positioned so awkwardly, Cryo!
Speaking of awkward, this particular bundle of bones was thought to be a teenager, so Cryolophosaurus might be even larger than expected. As for its quiff, it probably looked fabulous and was used to woo or warn other members of its species. Officially identified in 1994, alas Cryo was too late for the first Jurassic Park film, but it did feature in the awesomely terrible fighting game Jurassic Park: Warpath on the Playstation 1, where it had a ridiculous victory “roar” that sounded like a drain unblocking.
Latin: Cryolophosaurus ellioti
How the hell do you pronounce that? Cryo-loaf-oh-sore-us
What? Meat-eating dinosaur
Where? Antarctica, during the Early Jurassic
How big? 6-8 m/20-26 ft long, and 2-2.4 m/8-6 ft tall but probably bigger, unless this one’s a particularly gangly teenager
Endangered? No, we’re 170 million years too late
Probable motto: I don’t have one. I’m dead.
That sounds cool. Does it need my help at all?
That ship has sailed, but the current Antarctic could use some love:
and you could throw some support towards palaeontology in general:
Just to prove I’m not fibbing
Astrobiology Magazine. 2004. “Antarctic lost worlds. Tale of two dinosaurs.”
Brusatte, Steve. 2008. Dinosaurs. Quercus. ISBN: 978-1-84724-417-8
“Cryolophosaurus.” 2016. Paleontology World.
“Cryolophosaurus.” No date. Natural History Museum.
“Dinosaur Directory: Cryolophosaurus.” 2009. The Guardian.
“Fossils from the Antarctic.” No date. British Antarctic Survey.
“It’s a 3D printed cast of a dinosaur brain, from a CT scan! Cryolophosaurus ellioti.” 2015. Natural History Museum of L.A.
Makovicky, Peter J. No date. “Antarctic Dinosaurs“. Britannica.com.
National Science Foundation. 2018. “When dinosaurs roamed Antarctica.” Discover.
Sabrina. 2016. “I Know Dino podcast show notes: Cryolophosaurus (episode 68).” I Know Dino.
Weisberger, Mindy. 2017. “Dinosaurs that once roamed Antarctica “live again” in exhibits and film.” Live Science.
Whitehouse, David. 2004. “Of dinosaurs and dynamite.” BBC News.
Featured image credit: “Dinosaur Cryolophosaurus in the fog” by MR1805