When George Shaw received the first platypus skin to make it to England in 1789, he took a pair of scissors to it to look for stitches, or so the story goes. “It is impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal,” wrote Shaw. Surgeon, and racist, Henry Knox argued that the Asian itinerary by which the specimen had traveled was, “sufficient to rouse the suspicions of the scientific naturalist, aware of the monstrous impostures which the artful Chinese had so frequently practiced on European adventurers.” Of course, the reality of this chimerical creature has long since been recognized, and, as of this week, we have the unique genome to prove it.
More recently the “Archaeoraptor” scandal raised echoes of Knox’s Sinophobia, and this weeks’ hellasaur is certainly enough to raise eyebrows. Hupehsuchus nanchangensis, has that “designed by committee” look, with the limbs of a basal ichthyosaur, the dorsal armor of a placodont and the bill of a…well, duck. But the fossils indeed check-out: this is no “monstrous imposture”, just one freaky-ass (or if you rather, enigmatic-ass) hellasaur.
Hupehsuchus nanchangensis by Zach Miller
And the more you look, the weirder it gets…more tomorrow!