Wednesday, 28 October 2009

We're gonna need a bigger boat

The skull of a humongous pliosaur has been found in Dorset. Pliosaurs were long-headed, short-necked relatives of the more familiar plesiosaurs. Plesiosaurs were small-headed, long-necked carnivorous marine reptiles. Like Nessie.

This skull measures 2.4m long, putting estimates of the overall length of the sea-beast at around 16m. Very big. The biggest pliosaurs found so far have been from relatively recent finds in Svalbard, a Norwegian island, and Nuevo Leon in Mexico. These finds have been pitched at around 15m, so this Dorset one may be the winner. Given the Norwegian and Mexican examples have been given names like Predator X and The Monster of Aramberri, this new one needs to have a decent name. Not like 'Snappy' or something.

Extrapolating the size of one element of a fossil find is common practice, and understandably so. Everyone is going to want to have an idea of the overall size and shape of an animal to help them picture it. It is clearly an inexact science, however, and errors of scale are frequent. One of the biggest pliosaurs named so far is the mighty Liopleurodon, a scary monster even if it had been memorably exaggerated in the BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs. Some considerable debate has taken place over projected lengths of Liopleurodon, and only the discovery of more intact examples will give a clearer picture of the animal's true size.

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