October 15th, 2014 is National Fossil Day. In the lead up to this celebration of all things fossilized let us introduce you (or perhaps, re-introduce, for some of you fossil aficionados out there) to strange looking dinosaurs, crazy evolutionary adaptations and other incredibly nerdy fossil related news. Today, we bring you: Shovel Face-Vacuum Mouth – better known as Nigersaurus taqueti.
Nigersaurus was first found in the Republic of Niger in 1976 by French paleontologist, Philippe Taquet. However, shovel-face wasn’t given a name until 1999 when more complete remains were discovered at a dig led by Paul Sereno.
Relative to other sauropods, Nigersaurus is not huge – basically, the size of an elephant with a hell of a tail. But, in comparison to what we used to call a Brontosaurus, measuring a ridiculous 75ft long and weighing it at 35+ tons, this dinosaur is positively svelte. What sets him aside is clearly, that crazy looking thing we’re calling a mouth. Check out the fossilized version:
Even crazier right?! For starters, his head was absurdly light in comparison to the rest of his body. And then check out those teeth! Do they remind you of a baleen whale’s krill filter? Us, too! Except they are nothing like a krill filter, which is basically made of the same stuff as hair and fingernails.Sad, right? The Science Museum is totally going to revoke our junior Paleontologist certificate.
Nigersaurus’ actually has 500 teeth, each one around the width of a human toddler’s tooth. How do you cram 500 teeth inside one dinosaurs’ mouth? You have one working set, with 9 replacement sets stacked up behind to take their place, of course.Why does ‘ol shovel-face need 500 tiny teeth? Because Nigersaurus was the lawn mower of the Middle Cretaceous period (appx 115 to 105 million years ago). Well, except there were no lawns, no grass at all really, since grass didn’t show up until 40 million years later. Instead, the Nigersaurus ate ferns and horsetails (similar to the plant pictured).
Because of the vacuum-like shape of Nigersaurus’ mouth the dinosaur could clip plants off as close as one metre to the ground. Okay, sure, you probably want your lawn mowed a little closer than that, but in the days of megaflora, that’s not just manscaping, that’s a Brazilian.