Dinosaurs are totally absurd. Sauropods in particular. And it just gets worse.
Yesterday was a 1-2 punch of overwrought sauropodian redonkulusness:
First, the unveiling of Xenoposeidon, which co-describer Darren Naish modestly dubs, “the world’s most amazing sauropod.” The little white blip in the figure below is the type material: one lone, scrappy chunk-o-vertebrae that had been collecting dust on a shelf for over a century. Despite the fact that the skeleton is rather, ahem, incomplete this fossil has the potential to be extraordinarily important based on its location, age and apparent taxonomic independence. The new dino has become something of an internet event so if your curious to know more check out the Naish link above, Matt’s hilarious writeup (I’ll bet you didn’t know “poseidon” means “based on very few vertebrae”), lead author Mike Taylor’s entire website devoted to the critter (which has a .pdf copy of the original paper), and of course Sauropod Vertebrae Picture of the Week which will soon be changing it’s name to Xenoposeidon clearing house.
As if all that wasn’t enough to get your head spinning faster than Linda Blair at an Aleister Crowley book-signing, yesterdy ALSO saw the formal description of the more prosaically named, but not less nonsensicalNigersaurus. The paper, authored by my good buddy Paul Sereno and co, appeared on the supremely kickass open access journal PLOSOne.
Figure 1 from Sereno et al. 2007
Aside from the general wackiness in the jaws, the are some other strange things about this critter. The skull is exceptionally lightly built, the paper describes it as “semi-translucent”, it must have been a bitch to prepare. The skull holds more than 500 teeth, when you include the replacement teeth buried in the skull, and the authors estimate a tooth replacement interval of approximately one month (i.e. teeth lasted about a month before they were shed and replaced)! The skull structure suggests a downward orientation of the skull (as shown in the bottom of figure 1), which is consistent with apparent ‘grazing’ form of the jaw. The wear patterns on the teeth also make some interesting indications about how the jaw processed food.
Someone likened the mouth to a vacuum cleaner, and now the popular press is accusing Nigersaurus of being a suction feeder which is certainly not the case. I think a better functional analogy would be a pooper-scooper:
But then I suppose we’d be learning that Nigersaurus was a coprophage…
Like Xenoposeidon, Nigersaurus is stomping all over the interwebs: Brian penned a nice piece yesterday about how the new beastie fits into our changing views of sauropods in general, Anne-Marie has her take over at Pondering Pikaia, and Project Exploration has a whole pageful of amazing photos of Nigersaurus.
And if all this doesn’t make you want to go bang your head against a wall, thenI don’t know what will.