The dinosaurs reigned on earth for around 66 million years before being unceremoniously extinguished. To put that into perspective, humans have been hanging about for just 200,000 years. That means that dinosaurs were the Lords of the planet for 330 times longer than we’ve so far managed. And, I doubt we’ll beat their record; not the way we’re going currently.
During the dinosaur’s impressive reign, they came up with some pretty jazzy designs. Today we’re going to meet one of the jazziest of all the jazzers.
Now, although nyctosaurus (or nyctodactylus) is not technically a dinosaur, he was on earth during their elongated reign; his body work has to be one of the most impressive of all ancient beasties.
The odd silhouette of nyctosaurus graced American skies from the late Triassic through to the end of the Cretaceous Period – 228 to 66 million years ago.
Nyctosaurus was a flying reptile, and a close relative of pteranodon who is a little more famous but a lot less weird-looking.
The adult’s wingspan was up to 2 metres. It was an impressive beast – a flying reptile almost as big as a condor. That’s enough to startle anyone. However, in nyctosaurus’ case, there’s something other than its wingspan that draws the eye… what’s that on his head?
The crest of nyctosaurus is a two-pronged affair, the like of which has never been seen before or since. The crest is composed of two long, grooved spars; one sticking up, one sticking back. The upward spar measured around 42 cm and the one pointing backwards, about 32 cm.
What was the jazzy hat for? In short, we don’t know. Initially, there was a theory that it might have had skin stretched across it, acting as a kind of sail. When they did the maths, they found that the theory wasn’t as daft as it sounds.
But, on further inspection, there were no visible skin attachments on the fossil bones, so that theory’s off the table.
Many paleontologists now think that nyctosaurus’ crest might have been purely developed for showing off to prospective mates. Animals certainly do have a penchant for over-egging the sex displays – peacocks are an obvious example.
Although both genders of nyctosaurus seemed to carry these mad hats, no one has any better ideas at the moment. It was a while ago after all.
Nyctosarus, you weirdo, we salute you.
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