MOST ARTISTIC impressions of dinosaurs image them in lush forests or on huge temperate savannahs. That is honest sufficient. Such landscapes had been widespread throughout the beasts’ heydays, the Jurassic and Cretaceous intervals. These photos do, although, ignore the indisputable fact that dinosaur fossils have, for many years, been dug up in locations which had been at the moment polar. Whether these are the stays of migrants which got here for the summer time, or of everlasting residents, is debated. But a discovery of bone fragments and tooth from dinosaur hatchlings (see image), simply revealed in Current Biology by Patrick Druckenmiller of University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and his colleagues, suggests some dinosaurs did certainly make their full-time properties in the Arctic.

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Modern animals that migrate to polar climes, notably birds, do usually breed there. But their eggs hatch rapidly and their younger develop quick sufficient to fledge and fly to hotter locations earlier than winter arrives. Growth strains in fossilised dinosaur embryos discovered elsewhere recommend they wanted as a lot as six or seven months of incubation earlier than they had been able to hatch. Palaeontologists subsequently reckon any discovery of fossilised eggs or hatchlings near the palaeo-poles would imply the species involved should have been year-round residents quite than migrants.

Until now, no such hatchlings had been discovered, and the solely recognized polar dinosaur eggs had been from the Kakanaut formation of north-eastern Russia, which was solely simply inside the Arctic Circle when its rocks had been laid down. Dr Druckenmiller’s discoveries are from the Prince Creek Formation of northern Alaska, which can have been as shut as 5° of latitude from the North Pole when its rocks fashioned 70m years in the past.

The fossils themselves come from a variety of dinosaur teams, together with ceratopsians (associated to the likes of Triceratops), duck-billed hadrosaurs, giant carnivores associated to Tyrannosaurus and smaller velociraptor-like predators. This suggests a various and flourishing ecosystem, regardless of the indisputable fact that Prince Creek was constantly darkish for 120 days a yr and had a median annual temperature of 6°C—which means snow would have been widespread in winter.

How all these creatures survived these circumstances was, Dr Druckenmiller suggests, a consequence of dinosaurs’ warmbloodedness and the downy feathers lots of them are actually recognized to have sported. No direct proof of feathers has but been discovered amongst the Alaskan fossils, however their ubiquity elsewhere makes it seemingly that they had them.

This article appeared in the Science & know-how part of the print version underneath the headline “Arctic dinosaurs”



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