The upcoming David Attenborough/Apple TV+ Prehistoric Planet focuses on arguably one of the sexiest chapters in Earth’s history: the last 6 million years of the Late Cretaceous when T-rex was swimming with its young (don’t believe us?) and sauropods were battling it out with their enormous, bobble-sacced necks (again, see for yourself).
However, what’s arguably been proven to have stolen the show before the series has even aired is the touching display of a theropod who gives a big performance with only the smallest of limbs. We’re talking, of course, about Carnotaurus.
“Carnotaurus is an amazing predatory dinosaur from Argentina. It was named in 1985 and its name means meat-eating bull, which is a cool name,” British paleontologist and consultant to the series Darren Naish told IFLScience, and it’s a hard agree from us.
“[It’s] only known from one specimen, but one of its weirdest features is these phenomenally strange arms and the associated shoulder girdle. The arms look so small that it's really tempting to think that they were evolutionary relics [that] gradually became smaller and smaller over time. But that's not consistent with the fact that the anatomy here is really quite specialised.”
The fossilized remains of Carnotaurus have a ball-like head at the top of the upper arm. Ball joints in the human body include the shoulder and the hips which, for some people at least, can twirl quite freely.
Carnotaurus’s ball joint is unlike that seen in almost any other dinosaur, Naish explained, and connected to a highly muscular shoulder girdle that indicates that it wasn’t a limp and useless evolutionary hangover, but instead served a beneficial function.
“Scientists have assessed what this function could be and the only thing that ticks all the boxes is that it [performed] some bizarre, arm-twirling display,” Naish Said
Yes, we are delighted to announce that you can see Carnotaurus perform a breath-taking courtship display through the medium of tiny, twirling blue arms in Prehistoric Planet on Apple TV+ from May 23, 2022 (see a glimpse of it in the official trailer below at 01:21).
Much of the series pays homage to the fact that all evidence points to dinosaurs having been flamboyant animals that communicated with whatever evolution gave them, be it the intimate vocalizations between prospective T-rex mates (think less Jurassic Park, more shoebill) or the teeny, tiny arms of Carnotaurus.
They also likely had excellent color vision, something that’s been inferred by the anatomy and abilities of their nearest living relatives and can be attributed to dinosaurs through what’s called “phylogenetic bracketing”. That means that, like their distant, displaying bird-of-paradise relatives, flashes of color could have been integral to sexual selection and for this, Carnotaurus has been decked out with bright blue underarms.
The result is one that will make you see dinosaurs in a whole new light. A theme that underpins the entire series is presenting dinosaurs in unexpected ways to demonstrate that these weren’t the roaring monsters of Hollywood but actually like any other animals. Complex, confusing, and yes, sometimes comical.
“The internet has gone mad for it,” series producer Tim Walker told IFLScience. “We've seen a lot of love for that particular dinosaur. I don't know whether you've been able to keep up with the fan art that's being created… [but] we're seeing that that dinosaur is one of the most popular for recreation. Not just in drawings, but people are making gifs out of them and their own versions of the dance. So, if we can continue to spark this type of imagination we're delighted.”
Delighted is about right.
Want to see Carnotaurus's courtship display in all its twirling beauty? Catch Prehistoric Planet on Apple TV+ which premieres globally from May 23, 2022, in a five-day festival of Late Cretaceous wonder.