Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Happy Birthday to Mary Anning!

Today is the 215th birthday of Mary Anning!  In case you didn't know, Mary Anning was one of the most important early fossil hunters in history.  Starting when she was just a child, she was responsible for the discovery of several important species.  She lived in Southern England and used to do all her hunting along the Jurassic fossil beds known as the Lyme Regis formation.

Mary Anning discovered well known species like the pterosaur, Dimorphodon, and the first known plesiosaur and ichthyosaurs to science!

Ichthyosaurus, a famous prehistoric reptile discovered by Mary Anning back in the 1800s.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Stenopterygius: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!  This week, in honor of mothers everywhere, we will be looking at a prehistoric reptile who's motherhood was preserved in fossilized form forever. (aw)  Check out Stenopterygius

Stenopterygius was a marine reptile belonging to the same order as Ichthyosaurus.  It measured about ten feet long from snout to tail and would have lived in oceans covering what is now Europe during the Early Jurassic period, about 180 million years ago.  The genus name, Stenopterygius, translates to "Narrow Wing". (or in this case, flipper)  There have been several species assigned to this genus. 

Stenopterygius quadriscissus life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

Like all ichthyosaurs, Stenopterygius was a reptile, but had evolved a body shape very similar to that of a fish for a marine lifestyle.  Instead of feet and claws, it had flippers, dorsal fin, and tail fluke.  Its eyes were large and it sported a narrow, almost beak-like mouth filled with many sharp teeth for snagging prey.  Stenopterygius and Ichthyosaurus were actually very similar in appearance but can be told apart by Stenopterygius' proportionally smaller head and shorter snout.

Fossilized skeleton of a mother Stenopterygius with young.

Stenopterygius would have spent it's entire life at sea but would have still needed to come to the water's surface to breathe.  Unlike modern sea turtles, which still need to come to shore to lay eggs on land, ichthyosaurs like Stenopterygius actually gave birth to live young in the water.  We know this because of beautifully preserved Stenopterygius fossils consisting of mothers with the skeletons of unborn babies still inside their body cavities.  We even know that the babies would have been born tail-first!  

That's it for this week!  Join me next time for another awesome prehistoric creature!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page.  Is everyone excited for that new Godzilla movie coming out?  I sure am...  (hint-hint!)


Böttcher R. 1990. Neue Erkenntnisse über die Fortpflanzungsbiologie der Ichthyosaurier. Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde Serie B (Geologie und Paläontologie) 164: 1-51

Maxwell, E. E.; Fernández, M. S.; Schoch, R. R. (2012). "First Diagnostic Marine Reptile Remains from the Aalenian (Middle Jurassic): A New Ichthyosaur from Southwestern Germany". In Farke, Andrew A. PLoS ONE 7 (8): e41692. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041692.

Michael W. Maisch and Andreas T. Matzke (2000). "The Ichthyosauria". Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde: Serie B 298: 1–159.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Velafrons: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone!  Today, like last year, we will be looking at a dinosaur that used to call Mexico home.  Check out Velafrons coahuilensis!  The name sounds just sexy.  Say it out loud with me.  VELAFRONSSSSS.  yeah...

Velafrons was a hadrosaurid (duck-billed) dinosaur that was alive during the late Cretaceous period, 72 million years ago.  It measured about thirty feet long from beak to tail and was a plant eater.  The genus name, Velafrons, translates to "sail forehead" and the species name is in reference to Coahuila, Mexico, where some of its remains have been found.  When alive, Velafrons would have coexisted with Coahuiliceratops

Velafrons life reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza

Velafrons was a kind of hadrosaurid called a Lambeosaurine.  Lambeosaurine hadrosaurs tended to have had more narrow bills and elaborate crests on their heads, which were hollow and could have been used for producing sound.  Another example of a lambeosaurine hadrosaur is ParasaurolophusVelafrons was most closely related to Corythosaurus and Hypacrosaurus, however.  

Velafrons is known from a skull and partial skeleton.  It is believed that the remains found were actually from a juvenile animal so it could have possibly grown to have been even larger than thirty feet at older ages.  The crest may have also been larger in an adult as well.  Paleontologists hypothesize this because the crest of Velafrons is similar in shape to crests seen in juveniles of other, more completely known lambeosaurines, like Corythosaurus and Hypacrosaurus.  It is totally possible, however, that the Velafrons found was actually an adult after all and just had a...youthful look about it.

Velafrons skull at the Paleontology Museum of Guadalajara.

Like all hadrosaurs, Velafrons had a beak in the front of its mouth for clipping vegetation and hundreds of tightly packed teeth in the back of its mouth for chewing.  It could have walked on all four legs or reared up on its hind legs to run or reach higher leaves if it needed to.  The tails of hadrosaurs like Velafrons tended to be wide longitudinally (up and down ways) and stiff due to the way the vertebrae fit together. They would have been good counterbalances for when the dinosaurs were walking.  Hadrosaurs also likely used their tails like club-weapons to keep predators at bay if need be.

That's it for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Happy Cinco de Mayo!


Gates, Terry A.; Sampson, Scott D.; Delgado de Jesús, Carlos R.; Zanno, Lindsay E.; Eberth, David; Hernandez-Rivera, René; Aguillón Martínez, Martha C.; and Kirkland, James I. (2007). "Velafrons coahuilensis, a new lambeosaurine hadrosaurid (Dinosauria: Ornithopoda) from the Late Campanian Cerro del Pueblo Formation, Coahuila, Mexico". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27 (4): 917–930. doi:10.1671/0272-4634(2007)27[917:VCANLH]2.0.CO;2.