Yes, This Dinosaur Had a “Balloon Nose.” Here’s Why

Written by Susan Olayode
Published: August 17, 2022
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In 1963, Doug Landon found an interesting skeleton beside the Thompson River, close to Muttaburra, Queensland. Of course, this is not the first time that dinosaur fossils showed up in an Australian city. Over the past few decades, Australia has become a hot spot for opalized dinosaur remains.

The paleontologist Dr. Alan Bartholomai and entomologist Edward Dahms collected and preserved the dinosaur’s remains. A few years later, Dr. Bartholomai and Ralph Molnar worked together to give the dinosaur its name and class.

Here’s what makes the Muttaburrasaurus (aka Mutt) different from other dinosaurs.    

Muttaburrasaurus: Scientific Classification

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Clade:Dinosauria
Order:†Ornithischia
Clade:†Ornithopoda
Clade:†Rhabdodontomorpha
Genus:Muttaburrasaurus
Bartholomai & Molnar, 1981
Species:M. langdoni
Muttaburrasaurus langdoni

Binomial name: Muttaburrasaurus langdoni Bartholomai & Molnar, 1981

The Muttaburrasaurus was about 26 feet long and weighed about 2.8 metric tons. For context, that means this dinosaur weighed as much as a fully grown orca or a baby blue whale. Its teeth were arranged on top of one another, with only one set erupting at a time. This indicates that the Muttaburrasaurus must have been a herbivore. However, not all its teeth were used for chewing. The Muttaburrasaurus had some flat, ridgeless teeth that could have been used for shearing. This dino could have been an omnivore or a herbivore with a specific palate for tough vegetation like cycads. In this way, the Muttaburrasaurus was similar to Ceratopsians.

The name Muttaburrasaurus comes from where Doug Landon found it: Muttaburra, Queensland. Years later, Dr. Barthlomai chose to honor its discoverer by naming its species “langdoni.” Judging by its fossils, Muttaburra lived during the Albanian-Cenomanian period of the Cretaceous era

This dinosaur was a sociable creature that lived in groups of six or more. This group could have muttaburrasaurus-only or a mix of other plant-eating dinos.

A lifelike replica of Muttaburrasaurus in a park
Muttaburrasaurus weighed nearly 3 metric tons, but its defense against predators wasn’t its size, it was its “balloon nose.”

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The Structure of This Dinosaur’s Nose

The skull of the Muttaburrasaurus was flat and resembled a triangle when viewed from above. The back of its head was broader than the front, and some texts speculate that this dinosaur may have had a beak.

All dinosaur noses were interesting, but the Muttaburrasaurus beats them all. Asides from having turbinates that directed airflow during breathing, they had something extra. 

Its nose was hollow, with an upward bulge. Even though scientists found no traces of nasal tissue, this nasal space must have been used for something. Two factions have reached different conclusions. Some paleontologists believe that this dinosaur used its nose to make mating calls, while others believe that it was designed solely to scare predators away.

Both factions agree that this hollowed-out area probably had skin that it could fill up with air. This is where the “balloon nose” comes in.  

The Muttaburrasaurus’ nose probably also cooled down its brain. A series of channels sent inhaled air throughout the skull, making sure that its brain didn’t overheat.

Mating Call or Defense Mechanism?

Was the dinosaur’s nose used to attract mates or for defense? What if it was used for both? Or for something else entirely?

Let’s take a look at the pufferfish. The puffer fish puffs up and swells to almost twice its regular size when it feels threatened. Most predators will not attack a prey they do not recognize, so they swim away. On the other hand, even if they recognize the pufferfish, it suddenly doesn’t look so tasty. Every predator has a taste, and more often than not, they do not like swollen things. This could also be because animals tend to swell when they are dead.

Similarly, we can imagine the Muttaburrasaurus blowing up its special balloon nose anytime it felt threatened. This would confuse its predator and send it running.

Next, let’s consider that it wasn’t the balloon itself that scared predators, but the sound it made. And in addition to frightening predators, it may have served as a warning to its companions. As earlier mentioned, the Muttaburrasaurus lived and traveled in packs. If an individual was caught in a state of mortal peril, it could bellow loudly, calling for backup while providing a warning to its group. 

If we agree with the above, then we can speculate that these sounds weren’t only a distress cry. In 2016, some graziers and explorers found prehistoric scrapes in western Colorado. These scrapes were the kind made during a competitive mating dance or fight. From their analysis, we are confident that dinosaurs had a habit of competing for mates. This is not at all unusual, since some birds (which are the descendants of dinosaurs) do the same.

Some dinosaurs, like birds, had feathers they could use to catch attention, while others had horns and crests. The Triceratops family is popular for the large plate behind its head; the larger the plate, the more attractive the dino. For the Muttaburrasaurus, its cry may have been its selling point.

Other Dinosaur Defense Mechanisms

It is hard to imagine an animal that would eat something as scary as a dinosaur. Some prehistoric crocodiles begged to differ. Asides from bigger dinosaurs preying on smaller ones, several mammals and reptiles loved dinosaur meat. Here’s how dinosaurs stayed clear of them.  

Forming a Herd

Two heads are better than one, even for dinosaurs. Dinosaurs (such as the Mutt) formed herds of various kinds and species. One herd could have Mutt, brachiosaurus, or diplodocus species. Of course, the members of the herd all had to be herbivores. This herd would hunt and live together, even raising young amongst one another. In some cases, the most dominant male would assume the role of the clan leader. 

Swinging Tails

Those long and sturdy tails weren’t just for balance. Dinosaurs used them to fight too. Since most dinos had short arms and couldn’t pack a punch, they would swing their tails at their opponents to either cause injury or make them lose their balance.

One such dinosaur is the Ankylosaurus, which had a long, barbed tail. 

Horns and Spikes

Just like today’s ruminants, many herbivore dinosaurs had horns. A good example is the Ceratopsian dinosaurs, with horns and spikes all over their heads. These horns evolved to scare predators away, or at least make them lose interest. It would be hard to get a good bite out of a dinosaur that was covered with bony plates and spikes.

Camouflage

Fighting isn’t always necessary, especially when you can hide. Dinosaurs could avoid unnecessary drama by waiting it out.

The Psittacosaurus was the size of a big dog and could easily blend in with its surroundings. 

Bellowing

The muttaburrasaurus and seismosaurus are known for their bellow. They could scare predators away by simply roaring at them.

Conclusion 

A balloon nose could be quite useful. It could scare predators away, warn your friends of potential predators, and increase your odds of finding a hot dinosaur mate.

Although it is hard to say how exactly these dinosaurs used their noses, we can infer that the Muttaburrasaurus’ balloon nose served a variety of purposes.

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The Featured Image

A lifelike replica of Muttaburrasaurus in a park
Muttaburrasaurus had a flat skul that was broad and triangle-shaped from above.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are the Muttaburrasaurus remains?

The preserved and rearranged fossils of the Muttaburrasaurus are in the Queensland Museum, Australia. This collection includes the first fossils Langdoni found, and some bones of the teeth and scapula later found around Wales

How much did the muttaburrasaurus weigh?

The Mutt probably weighed about 2.8 metric tons. This is about the same weight as an adult whale’s tongue, a fully grown orca, or a baby blue whale.

What did the muttaburrasaurus eat?

The shape and arrangement of its teeth show that the Mutt was a herbivore. It may have had a liking for tough plants like Cycads. It could chew, but it could also tear apart. Some say that it may have been an omnivore.

When did this dinosaur go extinct?

Mutt went extinct about 100 million years ago, at the end of what is now known as the Early Cretaceous period.

What does Muttburrsaurus mean?

The Muttaburrasaurus dinosaur, called Mutt for short, was named after the area its remains were found. This dinosaur’s fossils were found in Muttaburra, Queensland, by Doug Langdoni. Hence the dinosaur is called Muttaburrasaurus langdoni. Muttaburrasaurus means Muttaburrasurus lizard.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Field Museum, Available here: https://eartharchives.org/articles/dinosaurs-down-under/index.html
  2. The Guardian, Available here: https://www.fieldmuseum.org/blog/how-did-dinosaurs-woo-their-mates
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/07/new-evidence-dinosaurs-performed-dances-mating#:~:text=Dinosaurs%20performed%20dances%20to%20woo%20mates%2C%20according%20to%20new%20evidence,-This%20article%20is&text=Predatory%20dinosaurs%20performed%20a%20ritual,the%20animals%20in%20western%20Colorado
  4. Secrets of Universe, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muttaburrasaurus
  5. Secrets of Universe, Available here: https://www.secretsofuniverse.in/how-did-dinosaurs-protect-themselves/