Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mantellisaurus: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

If you hadn't noticed, I skipped a week.  I was in London and didn't have access to a computer, sadly.  I would normally apologize but then I would be dishonest, teehee! (London was so fun.  More on that in the near future.)  This week, in honor of my trip, we shall be checking out a dinosaur that is famous (sort will see what I mean just keep reading) for being native to what is now England.  Check out Mantellisaurus atherfieldensisMantellisaurus was a plant-eating, ornithopod dinosaur that lived in what is now Southern England during the Early Cretaceous period about 130 million years ago.  It measured about thirty feet long from snout to tail and would have walked on its hind legs most of the time.  It may have dropped to all fours occasionally when resting.

Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis reconstruction by Christopher DiPiazza.

Mantellisaurus used to go by a much more recognizable genus name, Iguanodon.  During the 1800s and early 1900s most any large ornithopod found in Europe was given the genus name, Iguanodon.  It wasn't until years later that the specimens assigned to Iguanodon were examined more closely and several different kinds of related animals were able to be differentiated within this wastebasket of a genus.  One of these was Mantellisaurus.  Don't worry, the popular Iguanodon still stands.  In fact, the animal now officially holding the name, Iguanodon, has remains found in England, as well.  The best, most complete specimens of this particular genus are all from Belgium, however.  The two animals are very closely related and both had the trademark thumb spike on their hands for defense or combat within their species.  Mantellisaurus differs, however, in that it has much shorter front limbs than back limbs, and likely spent most of its time as a biped.  Iguanodon, on the other hand, actually had very long arms and was probably adept at roaming around on all fours.  Most reconstructions in books and other media that are labelled as "Iguanodon" are actually based on Mantellisaurus. (especially those made before 2007 when Mantellisaurus was officially named)

Mantellisaurus skeletal mount at the London Museum of Natural History.

Mantellisaurus was named in honor of Doctor Gideon Mantell, who was first to discover its (or Iguanodon's?) remains back in the 1800s.  It was Mantell who came up with the name, Iguanodon, which translates to "iguana tooth", due to the dinosaur's teeth resembling that of the modern lizard's.  Like many species of iguana, Mantellisaurus would have used its teeth to shred plant material.  It also had a tough beak in the front of its mouth for clipping.  Its hands, in addition to the thumb spike, had three wide middle digits for walking/standing on, and a flexible pinky digit, that may have helped manipulate vegetation while foraging.  It is because of this variety of different kinds of digits that dinosaurs in the iguanodontid family are said to have had "Swiss army knife hands" by paleontologists.

Remains, tracks, and casts on display at the Booth Museum in London.  These are labelled as belonging to Iguanodon but many, most notably that skull cast, are actually from Mantellisaurus. (which was still included in the Iguanodon genus at the time this exhibit was set up)

That is all for this week!  As always feel free to comment below or on our facebook page!  Stay tuned for some coverage of my trip to London and all the dinosaur-related adventures that went down!


Hooley, W., 1925, On the skeleton of Iguanodon atherfieldensis sp. nov., from the Wealden Shales of Atherfield (Isle of Wight): Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, v. 81, p. 1-61.

Norman, D.B., 2012. "Iguanodontian Taxa (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Lower Cretaceous of England and Belgium". In: Pascal Godefroit (ed.), Bernissart Dinosaurs and Early Cretaceous Terrestrial Ecosystems. Indiana University Press. 464 pp.

Paul, Gregory S. (2008). "A revised taxonomy of the iguanodont dinosaur genera and species". Cretaceous Research 29 (2): 192–216. doi:10.1016/j.cretres.2007.04.009.

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