Sunday, April 6, 2014

Caviramus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

Pterosaurs are often compared to mythical dragons.  Naturally what flying reptile wouldn't be?  There is one pterosaur, however, that I think especially looks like it flew right out of Essos. (Game of Thrones Season 4 today woo!) Check out Caviramus scheplasanensis!

Life reconstruction of Caviramus scheplasanensis by Christopher DiPiazza

Caviramus was a one of the earliest known pterosaurs, having lived during the late Triassic, about 208 million years ago.  It was a fairly small compared to later pterosaurs with a four foot wingspan.  (baby dragon size) Its genus name, Caviramus, translates to "Hollow Jaw" in reference to its jaw which was one of the first parts of it to be unearthed by scientists and its species name is in reference to Mount Scheplasama, which is where it was found in Switzerland.

Everybody loved Daenarys!

Caviramus is known from two specimens which were originally thought to be two different species because the first was so fragmentary.  The second one, originally named Raeticodactylus, preserved much more material than the first, including the whole skull and much of the wings.

The second set of remains discovered of Caviramus, originally called Raeticodactylus.

Unlike many reptiles, Caviramus actually had a variety of different kinds of teeth in its mouth which appear to be designed for doing different things, much like the teeth of most mammals, actually.  In the front it had long, pointed teeth which probably were for capturing prey, possibly fish or other small animals.  In the back, however, it had shorter teeth that may have been used for chewing!  This is an unusual trait, only known to be present in a few species of Triassic pterosaurs.

Caviramus had a small bony crest on its snout.  We now know that pterosaurs with small crests likely had much larger crests when they were alive thanks to examining well-preserved fossils under UV lights.  When the pterosaur was alive, most of the crest would have been made of keratin (same material that your hair and finger/toe nails are made of...and a lot of other stuff on a lot of other animals), which often rots away after death.  This was probably the case with Caviramus' crest as well.  This large crest, like the crests of many pterosaurs, was probably a display adaptation for courtship.  Caviramus also had a tall, flattened portion at the end of it's lower jaw which would have given the whole front of the animal's  face an ax-shape appearance.  It actually looks pretty similar to one of those flying creatures from James Cameron's Avatar movie (called Leonopteryx).

Those tentacle bonding thingies were pretty creepy.

The wings of Caviramus were extremely long and thin. They are similar in shape to those of modern seabirds (which are not that closely related to pterosaurs just convergent evolution!) like gulls and albatross.  Although scientists are not 100% sure as to exactly how Caviramus fed when alive, it very well may have been adapted for soaring over bodies of water with those wings and plucking small fish out of the water with its specially designed teeth.

Special thanks to Paleontologist, Dr. Mark Witton, who is an expert on pterosaurs, for approving the information in this post and for coaching me through making the painting reconstruction of this awesome-looking pterosaur. 

 As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Have a creature you'd like to see reviewed?  Let us know and we'll make it happen! 

Works Cited

Fröbisch, N.B.; and Fröbisch, J. (2006). "A new basal pterosaur genus from the upper Triassic of the Northern Calcareous Alps of Switzerland". Palaeontology 49 (5): 1081–1090. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4983.2006.00581.x

Stecher, Rico (2008). "A new Triassic pterosaur from Switzerland (Central Austroalpine, Grisons), Raeticodactylus filisurensis gen. et sp. nov". Swiss Journal of Geosciences 101: 185. doi:10.1007/s00015-008-1252-6.

Osi, A. (2010). "Feeding-related characters in basal pterosaurs: implications for jaw mechanism, dental function and diet." Lethaia, doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.2010.00230.

Witton, Mark P. Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. N.p.: Princeton UP, 2013. Print.

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