Hello there Steggy! She’s followed me here because she wants the bucket of tasty fern balls I’ve brought with me. That works out nicely, since she’ll stay here and munch while we point and chat about her for a few minutes. Just like when we talked about Ajax last week, I’ll stick with 3 research tidbits for now, to keep things short. 🙂
1. Soft or hard-shelled turtle?
Steggy’s a bit smaller than the average wild stegosaurus, but she’s still quite a bit taller than we are. If you reach up on your tip-toes you might be able to touch the biggest of her plates, the one right above her hips there.
There’s been some speculation in recent years on if these plates were hard and covered in keratin- like a turtle’s shell or cow’s horn- or if the plates were soft and covered in scales or skin.
I did a bit of digging (research wise), and came across this lovely gem of information written by Darren Naish. He cites a paper provided by Christiansen & Tschopp (2010), who reported a continuous sheath-like covering on one of the plates they referred to another spiketail known as Hesperosaurus.
So there you have it. Hesperosaurus is a very close cousin of Stegosaurus, so in the realm of phylogenetic bracketing that makes it more likely that Steggy had a smooth, hard sheath of horn on her plates and spikes.
2. Armed to the teeth.
The same Hesperosaurus described had another very rare insight on spiketails- fossil skin. As you can see on Steggy here, most of her body is covered in small, non-overlapping scales, called tubercles. They look a bit like pave stones don’t they? Now look up here, a bit higher up on her side. Interesting isn’t it?
Steggy has some pretty tough scales. These large oval scales are called osteoderms, just like the large, hard scales on the backs of crocodiles. They’re covered in keratin, like our fingernails, and they do a pretty good job as armor. I’m sure Alfred‘s wild relatives had a tough time munching on wild stegosaurus. 🙂
- thick skin with larger, armor-like scales (also useful for prickly plants) You can find the abstract for the paper describing the skin here.
- Large, horn plates protect the spine
- Bony neck armor protects neck from predators and prickly plants
- Muscular tail that’s flexible enough to jab at hard-to-reach places, like between a predator’s legs. Just take a look at this article about a time the allosaur lost the fight…And check out this article on exactly how lethal a blow from this kind of tail can be (using a different spiketail cousin as a model)
- Short front legs can bring head lower to the ground (harder to reach) and spiky end up, or push the body up to swivel on powerful hind legs. Awesome for quick, sharp turns. No way a hungry predator can get to anything soft and vulnerable if that spiked mace is always between it and the stego.
3. She might not be the sharpest rock, but she’s one tough cookie.
Steggy might have a brain the same size as a dog’s, but she’s not nearly as dumb as movies and the media would have you think. (I’m looking at you Spike, in The Land Before Time). I think most encounters would not have ended up like the stego in Disney’s Fantasia (which is totally what inspired my love for them in the first place 🙂 )
With all that armor, and tons of fossil evidence with some serious dino damage on Alfred‘s wild relatives, it looks to me that spiketails had an attitude to match their prickly array of spikes and plates.
Because of that, I’ve given Steggy a bright warning pattern. Someone told me it reminded her of a skunk, and that’s exactly what I’m going for. Steggy’s color is something that says “stay away!”
Good thing Steggy is a calm and peaceful pet then, a domesticated spiketail. Domestic spiketails have a tendency to be nervous, and spook easily (like horses), but Pete works with her a lot, and hardly anything bothers Steggy now. (horses can be trained like this too)
Just for fun, here’s my reasoning on why Steggy may not be as dumb as you think. A quick check on Youtube brings up plenty of smart tortoises. Yep, after discovering that it couldn’t fit through the pet door, this one figured out how to open a sliding glass door.
Quick Question: Animals do all sorts of crazy things we wouldn’t expect. Do you have a story about an animal or pet that did something unexpected? I’d love to hear your answer in the comments!