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The Greatest Dinosaur Hits of 2011

This was a big year for dinosaur discoveries and debates. Here are a few highlights

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Another year, another fantastic spate of dinosaur discoveries. Even as 2011 draws to a close, the findings keep rolling in—from the way Deinonychus used its killer cutlery to the first record of sauropod dinosaurs from Antarctica and sexual selection among dinosaurs. There has been such a glut of interesting papers that it would be impossible to mention every bit of dinosauriana from this year, but here is a partial listing of some of the stories that caught my eye.

Dinosaur Growth

Everyone knows that there are lots of unknown dinosaur species left to be discovered. What has become increasingly contentious is the question of how many species can be counted among what has already been collected. This year saw a continuation of the 2010 “Toroceratops” debate with a paper on the enigmatic Nedoceratops by Andrew Farke early in the year, followed by a response to his paper by John Scannella and Jack Horner this month. Likewise, paleontologists suggested that the hadrosaur Anatotitan and the tyrannosaur Raptorex were really just growth stages of other known dinosaurs (the latter being similar to Tarbosaurus, a juvenile of which was also described this year).

Dinosaur senses

How did dinosaurs perceive their world? Two significant papers approached this question—one focused on smell (see the video above), and the other vision. As with studies of dinosaur growth, though, investigations of dinosaur senses can be controversial. Last week’s issue of Science included a comment and reply about the idea that the bony rings preserved in the eyes of some dinosaurs might be used to reconstruct the time of day when the animals were most active.

Archaeopteryx

This year marked the 150th anniversary of the discovery of Archaeopteryx. But 2011 has been full of ups and downs for the Urvogel. Even though an 11th specimen of the feathered dinosaur was announced, a controversial paper proposed that the creature was not an early bird but rather a non-avian dinosaur more distantly related to the first birds. Exactly what Archaeopteryx is and what that interpretation means for our understanding of bird evolution will continue to be debated.

New species

New dinosaurs are named just about every week, but two in particular caught my eye: Brontomerus, a sauropod whose name translates to “thunder thighs,” and Teratophoneus, a short-snouted tyrannosaur. (I just realized that both were found in Utah, though, so perhaps I have a bias for my adoptive state!)

That is just a smattering of findings from 2011. Shout out your favorite 2011 dinosaur discoveries in the comments. And, if you want to see how 2011 compares to previous years, see my lists from 2010 and 2009.

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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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