December 21, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Big Dino Found, But How Did it Eat?

A few interesting dinosaur stories came to light this month.

  1. I was a Spanish monster:  A new giant sauropod has been found in Spain, reported EurekAlert based on a paper in Science.1  Named Turiasaurus riodevensis by the discoverers, it ranks among the largest of dinosaurs and is the first giant sauropod found in Europe, weighing 40-48 tons (equal to six or seven adult male elephants).  To help modern sports fans visualize the beast, it would have extended the length of an NBA basketball court, EurekAlert said.  National Geographic News added that it had a claw the size of a football.  Must have been quite a half-time show at the Dino Bowl.
        The Science paper described the new sauropod as “primitive” because “The proximal end of the tibia is compressed mediolaterally,” as in other assumed “basal sauropods.”  They classified it into a new clade, Turiasauria.  Most giant sauropods have been found in North and South America and Africa, and belonged to a different clade, Neosauria.  “Turiasaurus however, demonstrates that at least one of the more basal (non-neosauropod) lineages achieved gigantic size independently.”
        An artist’s rendition of the beast can be found on the Reuters story at MSNBC, along with a photograph of the excavators at work.  See also EurekAlert.
  2. Go eat a rock:  You might think only pranksters would feed rocks to ostriches, but that’s what some German scientists did, reported EurekAlert.  They were trying to find out of stomach stones (gastroliths) in large birds and dinosaurs were actually used for grinding up food.  The pieces of granite, rose quartz and limestone from the dissected birds after they were slaughtered showed rough edges and wear.  This is not how alleged gastroliths from sauropod sites look.  Those smooth stones also represent a much smaller proportion of the animals’ bodies and are not found at all sauropod sites.  The scientists are at a loss to explain the stones.  Maybe the dinosaurs ingested them accidentally or absorbed minerals from them.  The scientists are also puzzled about how the behemoths digested the large quantities of vegetable mass they must have eaten each day.
  3. Two mouths are better than one:  At the other end of the size scale, a tiny juvenile dinosaur with two heads was found in China.  BBC News has a picture of the unusual fossil.  Two-headed snakes and turtles are known, but the rarity of the embryonic defect makes this a highly improbable find.  Since both heads had independent long necks, the critter might have been able to hold conversations with itself – not for long, though; its tiny size indicates it died young.

These articles demonstrate that much remains to be known about the amazingly diverse reptiles that once roamed the earth.

1Royo-Torres et al, “A Giant European Dinosaur and a New Sauropod Clade,” Science, 22 December 2006: Vol. 314. no. 5807, pp. 1925 – 1927, DOI: 10.1126/science.1132885c.

The articles both mentioned evolution but only in an offhand, inconsequential manner.  To think that gigantic sauropods evolved independently is a stretch.  The description “primitive” is in the eye of the phylogenist.  Clearly these were successful, well-adapted creatures that knew more about digestion than we do.

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Categories: Birds, Dinosaurs

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