Monday, June 3, 2019

Dakosaurus: Beast of the Week

You may know that we have reviewed a Godzilla dinosaur on here before.  This week we will be looking at yet another prehistoric beast with connections to the "King of the Monsters."  Check out Dakosaurus andiniensis!

Dakosaurus andiniensis lived in the oceans that once covered what is now Argentina during the Late Jurassic to the Early Cretaceous, between 145 and 140 million years ago.  Dakosaurus was a meat-eater in life, and measured about fifteen feet long from snout to tail.  The genus name, Dakosaurus, translates to "biter lizard/reptile" in reference to the creature's formidable teeth.  There are actually a few species within the Dakosaurus genus, but I want to focus specifically on the species, Dakosaurus andiniensis.  

Dakosaurus andiniensis by Christopher DiPiazza.

Dakosaurus was an extinct genus of crocodilian that belonged to the family called Metriorhynchidae.  Metriorhynchids were prehistoric crocodiles that were specially adapted to living in the ocean during the middle Jurassic through the early Cretaceous periods.  Their limbs were like flippers and their flattened tails even independently evolved flukes like those of sharks, dolphins, and their fellow reptiles, the ichthyosaurs and mosasaurs.

Fossilized skull of Dakosaurus andiniensis.  It looks mean!

Dakosaurus andiniensis had a uniquely short snout compared to the other species within its genus, giving it a particularly menacing look, to the scientists who studied it.  It is because of this unusually short, and boxy face, that this species of Dakosaurus was nicknamed "Godzilla" among the scientists who worked with it.

Dakosaurus' teeth were unique in that they were both laterally compressed and serrated.  This is a feature more commonly seen in certain kinds of meat-eating dinosaurs.  In fact, when the isolated teeth of Dakosaurus were first discovered, they were initially believed to have been from a Megalosaurus, not a crocodile.  The skull of Dakosaurus had openings towards the back, called fenestrae, that would have anchored powerful jaw muscles in life.  This, combined with the fact that its teeth were deeply rooted within the jaws, means that Dakosaurus would have been able to bite down with extreme force.  It is likely that an adult Dakosaurus would have been a top predator and was able to hunt most other animals it shared its habitat with, including other marine reptiles. 

Nobody is exactly sure how Dakosaurus would have reproduced.  There is specific fossil evidence that other prehistoric marine reptiles, like mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs, gave birth to live young in the water.   Dakosaurus' group, the crocodilians, however, only lay eggs in nests, however.  In fact, even broadening this group to all of archosauria, which includes crocodilians, in addition to dinosaurs and several other reptile groups, all we know of is egg-laying so far.  Going off this information alone, using closest relatives as a reference, Dakosaurus would have needed to haul out on land to lay its eggs.  However, a study looking at the anatomy of a more completely known metriorhynchid showed that the anatomy of the pelvis was more similar to that of other kinds of marine reptiles that we know gave birth to live young.  Despite that all known archosaurs lay eggs, it wouldn't be unheard of for one group of marine crocodilians to have evolved live birth, since we already can confirm it has happened multiple independent times in other groups of marine reptiles.

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below.

References

Gasparini Z, Pol D, Spalletti LA. 2006. An unusual marine crocodyliform from the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary of Patagonia. Science 311: 70-73.

Herrera, Y.; Fernandez, M.S.; Lamas, S.G.; Campos, L.; Talevi, M.; Gasparini, Z. (2017). "Morphology of the sacral region and reproductive strategies of Metriorhynchidae: a counter-inductive approach"Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: 1–9. 

Vignaud P, Gasparini ZB. 1996. New Dakosaurus (Crocodylomorpha, Thalattosuchia) from the Upper Jurassic of Argentina. Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences, Paris, 2 322: 245-250.

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