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Dinosaurs lived in the Arctic

Paleontologists have found dinosaur bones in several places in the Arctic, including a jawbone from a hadrosaur—a plant-eating duck-billed dinosaur—near Pond Inlet, Nunavut.

Map of Canada showing location of Pond Inlet, Nunavut

How big were they?

A smallish hadrosaur—a juvenile—was about 3 metres long, the size of a large male polar bear.  A big one was as long as a bus—12 metres.

How could cold-blooded creatures like dinosaurs live in the Arctic?

Good question! Cold blooded animals (ectotherms) like snakes and lizards, depend on their surroundings for warmth and don't do well in the cold. But dinosaurs may have been warm-blooded (endotherms), like birds and mammals, whose bodies make heat. You, by the way, are an endotherm.

 Painting of Corythosaurus by Ely Kish ©Canadian Museum of Nature/Musée canadien de la nature
Corythosaurus painting by Ely Kish ©Canadian Museum of Nature/Musée canadien de la nature

Okay - but they went to Florida in winter, right?

Wrong. It's true that dinosaurs couldn't survive today's harsh arctic winter.  But back in their day—65 million years ago and earlier—the Arctic was warmer.  And although the temperature could fall to around zero Celsius, they probably didn't migrate south in winter.  That would take too much energy.

You mean they were lazy?

No—but like all animals they knew how to conserve energy.  Duck-billed dinosaurs were large, with heavy legs.  It would probably be too exhausting for one to walk far enough south to get to a warmer climate.  Today's world champion migratory land animal is the barren-ground caribou.  Its light, energy-efficient legs make for easy long-distance walking.  But not even caribou migrate far enough to get to a different climate.  Only birds do that—and they go by air.

Did the arctic dinosaurs eat lichen, like caribou?

The ancient Arctic was full of large plants, with trees much like the swamp cypress that grows in the southern US today.  In summer duck-billed dinosaurs ate mostly leaves.  With the 24-hour daylight in summer, plants grew very fast and they had plenty of food.

Hadrosaur food in summer
Hadrosaur food in summer

Did meat-eating dinosaurs live in the Arctic too?

Yes, tyrannosaur bones have been found near Pond Inlet.

How did dinosaurs handle the 24-hour darkness in winter?

In summer the hadrosaurs gorged on nutritious food and built up reserves of fat.  That would help keep them warm during the 24 hour winter darkness when the leaves had fallen from the trees and they had to eat twigs and bark.  They might have migrated to areas with better food in winter.  But every winter many of them probably died—and became food for tyrannosaurs.

Hadrosaur food in winter
Hadrosaur food in winter

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