Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thunder Thighs

Perusing the BBC today, the headline "Dinosaur had thunder thighs" leapt off the page and made me laugh, so I couldn't help but share it here. Coming from a background where I was in a sorority as an undergraduate, I can assure you that when someone dropped the term "thunder thighs" they were not talking about dinosaur muscles. But this is a case of scientists having a sense of humor, using the term to name a new dinosaur species.

The species is a sauropod, a type of dinosaur characterized by their long necks and tails. According to the researchers, the fossilized hip bone is larger than the hips in other similar species. This along with the unique shape of the hip socket which shows a large space for muscles to connect, led the researchers to conclude that B. mcintoshi would have had powerful legs capable of delivering strong kicks.
A representation of some long necked sauropods.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The dinosaur species is technically called Brontomerus mcintoshi from the Greek bronto for thunder and meros for thigh. Leading to the common name, thunder thighs. The researchers from University College London who discovered the significance of the fossilized remains (which are fragmentary, but enough to draw conclusions) named the species the way they did because it would have had extremely powerful and muscular legs.

The fossils date back to the Early Cretaceous Period, and are estimated at 110 million years old. The finds were uncovered in the Hotel Mesa Quarry in Grand County, Utah. The site is known to have been scoured by fossil hunters, leaving researchers to speculate whether other interesting finds (like thunder thighs) may have been carried off to private collections.

I like the BBC's coverage of this scientific find so much, because they had fun with the name of the species, but not so much as to dilute the importance of the find. The article is detailed and (I think) does a good job of explaining what is significant about the species and the location where it was uncovered. If nothing else, the title alone is clearly a success because it got me to read the entire article.

It is important to note that the bones were discovered in the 1990's and stored at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, but the significance of the hip bone wasn't discovered until Dr. Mike Taylor from University College London evaluated them in 2007. Results of this study were published recently in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

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