Ground Dragon meets “Earth Lizard”

18 April 2006

(Rodolfo Coria – AP)
Another addition to the growing list of gee-whiz vertebrate fossils described in 2006:

Mapusaurus roseae, a new member of the absurdly beefy theropod family formally known as the Charcharodontosauridae ("shark-toothed lizards"). A close cousin of Mapusaurus, Giganotosaurus, dethroned media darling Marc bolan as the largest known terrestrial carnivore in the 90s1. It appears that Mapusaurus probably matched or exceeded T. rex in length and mass. With predictable torpididty, the popular media is picking up the story, though why not head straight to the source?

Coria R. A. & Currie P. J. (2006). A new carcharodontosaurid (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Upper Cretaceous of Argentina. Geodiversitas 28(1):71-118 (pdf)

Beyond the absurd physical proportions of this new theropod, the fact that multiple individuals were found in one locality (at least seven based on the number of foot bones) has interesting implications. One, possibly remote, interpretation is that this accumulation of juvenile and adult skeletons represents some type of family group or pack (the popular media seems especially entranced by this scenario). Pack hunting has been proposed in other theropods, especially in (relatively) smaller genera like Deinonychus.

Of course, the accumulation of multiple individuals could also be indicative of a predator trap, where multiple predators were attracted to a mire where prey was rendered immobile and easy pickins' (think La Brea tarpits). The bonebed is reportedly monospecific, only containg the remains of Mapusaurus, though nothing would preclude Mapusaurus from playing both predator and prey. Perhaps an unfortunate juvenile became stuck and lured in successively larger cousins a la Bruegel's Big Fish Eat Little Fish (1556):

The name of this new monster shares two things with another recent fossil blockbuster: Tiktaalik roseae. First, both share "roseae" as the specific designator (apparently a reference to a "rosy" rock formation in the case of Mapusaurus and an homage to an "anonymous" benefactor in the case of Tiktaalik).

Second, the generic names for each incoporates a word borrowed from a local indigenous group (Mapusaurus from the Mapuche word for "Earth", and Tiktaalik from the Inuktitut word for "burbot"). This trend has been growing in vertebrate paleontology for some time (see also this year's Erketu). While it reveals an admirable flowering of cultural sensitivity within the walls of academia it's rendering my rudimentary Greco-Latin skills obsolete!

Alright time to walk my ground dragon, but go check out Mike Keesey's post:

1 – As with most biggest/oldest/smallest fossils, the title for "biggest meat-eater" remains contentious. A recent article in JVP puts the WWII casualty Spinosaurus out front.

8 Responses to “Ground Dragon meets “Earth Lizard””

  1. Chelsea Says:

    When trying to think of the reason behind this assemblage I’m having really really unfortunate flashbacks to Peter Jackson’s domino-like cascade of Brontosauri (or whatever they were, but it’s a remake so I think they’re Brontosauri) down a ravine.

  2. Chelsea Says:

    Errr… brontosaurs?

  3. Neil Says:

    The infamous death by Jack Black theory.


  4. […] The genus name comes from Mapudungun, the indigenous South American language that also gave us Mapusaurus, yet another example of the trend to defer to local linguistic traditions when christening […]


  5. […] a while now, I have been interested in the introgression of nonIndo-European languages into taxonomic […]


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