Box #14 in our count down is Yinlong…
Yinlong: the “Hidden Dragon”
Yinlong was a small dinosaur that lived in Late Jurassic China, and is among the very earliest of horned dinosaurs like Triceratops. Parts of the skull show that not only was it related to the “horned faces”, but also to “thick-headed reptiles” like Pachycephalosaurus. It is this turkey-sized creature that showed us that the bipedal pachycephalosaurs and the lumbering ceratopsians were part of a larger group, the Marginocephalia. The mouthful of a name is Latin for “margin-head”, and refers to a little shelf on the back of the skull.
Or a very big shelf, in the case of pretty much every large ceratopsian.
Creatures like Yinlong are very helpful in figuring out which dinosaurs are related to each other, and can help piece together the dinosaur family tree. Finding out relationships between animals helps with figuring out how some animals looked. If an incomplete fossil is discovered, we can still have a good idea of what it might have looked like based on close family relatives. Animals change over time as they adapt to the environment they live in, and sometimes what looks to be a disappearance of an animal is actually a change so big that it appears to be a completely new animal.
We can follow these animal groups and get a better understanding on environments based on how the bodies of animals changed and adapted over time. Why did some relatives of Yinlong stay on two legs and grow extra thick skulls, while others went down on four legs and developed horns and huge, bony frills? Perhaps if we track how they moved from one location to another as the earth changed, then that would give us clues on how these changes happened, or give us clues to what life was like so long ago.
Of course, part of it is simply the human desire to know. To explore the mysterious and ask questions to discover more about this wonderful world we live in. That’s good enough reason for me.