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Little-known fact: Some dinosaurs wore hats.* And one group of duck-billed dinosaur had the best hats of all.

This hat (henceforth, we’ll call it a crest, for scientific accuracy) was not just any fancy accoutrement. Not at all. This crest contained the dinosaur’s nasal passages. That’s right; the dinosaurs breathed through a hollow crest on their head.

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As an example, let’s take a look at the Parasaurolophus, who had the longest nasal passages of any animal ever, except for a large wooly mammoth.
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Here’s how air makes its way from nose to lungs:

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That is over four meters from nostril to lung.

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Different shapes, colors, sizes and lengths of nasal passages: Why the variety?
 
These crests form the basis of communication.


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*Not real hats, of course. Through evolution, the bones of their face extended, shrank and otherwise rearranged so a totally awesome crest grew on top of their heads.

By Terry “Bucky” Gates, a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and NC State University. He spends his time researching a wide variety of topics but one of his favorites is the crazy crests and spikes on dinosaurs and other animals. Follow him on Twitter, @terryagates, LinkedIn, and his series of Cretaceous Cold Case blogs.

Illustrated by Talcott Starr (@talcotts),  a writer and cartoonist who spends most of his time doodling silly dinosaurs. He usually posts these to Twitter and http://talcottstarr.com.

Check our facts!

Evans, D. C. 2007: Ontogeny and evolution of lambeosaurine dinosaurs (Ornithischia: Hadrosauridae).University of Toronta, Toronto, Ontario, 497pp.

Gates, T. A., A. Prieto-Márquez, and L. E. Zanno. 2012: Mountain building triggered Late Cretaceous North American megaherbivore dinosaur radiation. PloS one 7:e42135.

Horner, J. R., D. B. Weishampel, and C. Forster. 2004: Hadrosauridae. Pp.438–463 in D. B. Weishampel, P. Dodson, and H. Osmólska, eds. The Dinosauria. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Weishampel, D. B. 1997: Dinosaur cacophony. Bioscience 47:150–159.