Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bulbasaurus: Beast of the Week

This week we will be looking at a newly described reptilian relative of mammals.  Check out BulbasaurusBulbasaurus was a dicynodont, a wildly successful group of plant-eating reptiles that shared characteristics with mammals.  It lived during the late Permian, between 260 and 252 million years ago, in what is now South Africa.  From beak to tail it would have roughly measured two feet long...maybe a bit less.  (Only the skull has been found, which was about six inches long.)  The genus name, "Bulbasaurus", tranlsates to "bulbous reptile" in reference to the bony mass above its nose.  The species name, "phyloxyron", translates to "leaf razor", in reference to how it may have cut leaves to eat with its beak. 

Life reconstruction of Bulbasaurus, by Christopher DiPiazza.

Bulbasaurus, as stated above, was a dicynodont.  Dicynodonts were interesting reptiles that looked like a combination of a few different animals alive today.  I have heard many compare them to pigs...but I never really saw that.  They had proportionally large heads, and broad beaks.  Many kinds had two tusks protruding downwards from their top jaw.  They would have walked in a squat, semi-sprawling posture on four, stout legs.  So if I were to describe a dicynodond in terms of modern animals...I'd say just imagine a French Bulldog...with beak...yeah...yeah, that's perfect. 

Bulbasaurus was an important find because it was a member of the family within dicynodonts, called geikiidae.  Until its discovery, geikiids were only known from significantly later times in the Permian and Triassic.  Bulbasaurus sets the first geikiids back millions of years than what was previously thought, however.  Geiikid dicynodonts typically had particularly large, robust heads, curved beaks, and longer tusks, which Bulbasaurus had when compared to its contemporary family members. 

Bulbasaurus skull from the paper recently published by Christian Kammerer and Roger M. H. Smith.

SO WHAT ABOUT THAT NAME?!  Was Bulbasaurus named after the pokemon, Bulbasaur? It certainly looks similar.  In fact, Bulbasaur, the pokemon's design was almost certainly based off dicynodonts, as I explained in a post last year.  According to interviews with Dr. Christian Kammerer, one of the paleontologists who worked with, and lead author of the paper that describes Bulbasaurus, it's insisted the name is a coincidence, and it really is just in reference to it's nose...and the species name...."leaf razor" in reference to it's beak, despite the fact that any pokemon fan can tell you one of Bulbasaur's signature attacks is called razor leaf.  I guess we will just have to believe them just like you should just believe my illustration of Bulbasaurus in no way is in reference to Bulbasaur, the pokemon's, color scheme, nor is the pose and setting inspired by the artwork on Bulbasaur's first pokemon card...

Stop looking for things that aren't there!  Definitely no connection here.  Total coincidence.


Kammerer, C.F.; Smith, R.M.H. (2017). "An early geikiid dicynodont from the Tropidostoma Assemblage Zone (late Permian) of South Africa". PeerJ. 5. doi:10.7717/peerj.2913. ISSN 2167-8359.

Kammerer, C.F.; Angielczyk, K.D.; Frobisch, J. (2011). "A Comprehensive Taxonomic Revision of Dicynodon (Therapsida, Anomodontia) and Its Implications for Dicynodont Phylogeny, Biogeography, and Biostratigraphy". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 31 (sp1): 1–158.

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