The secret’s snout: baby dino find is right on the nose
Study of tiniest Tylosaurus yet found unlocks mystery of how dinosaurs develop from one age group to the next
Dinosaur bones are not often associated with the touchy-feely response one might have to a furry mammal. But now, some bones have been found that might curl your toes in delight if you’re a lover of all things miniature.
They’re the face fossils from the smallest Tylosaurus yet found, and they can sit comfortably in the palm of a human hand, looking more like printer’s tray items than a massive clue to the past.
But for scientists, who are more prone to analysing empirical evidence than squealing with delight at how minuscule something is, the groundbreaking find sheds light on how dinosaurs developed as they moved from one age group to the next.
The new study, published on Friday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, describes how the bones of the newborn tylosaurus curiously lack one of the species’ most obvious features: a long snout.
At first the researchers were scratching their heads in confusion. It looks like a Tylosaurus but it doesn’t have a snout, so what on Earth could it be? And then, their eureka moment came: the Tylosaurus snout only develops after a certain age.
Lead author Professor Takuya Konishi, of the department of biological sciences at the University of Cincinnati, said: “Having looked at the specimen in 2004 for the first time myself, it too took me nearly 10 years to think out of that box and realise what it really was – a baby Tylosaurus yet to develop such a snout.”
The irony is that, when fully grown, a Tylosaurus was a veritable giant, reaching a full 13m in the peak of life.
The lack of snout in the baby specimen suggests to researchers that the development of this feature happened “extremely quickly, between birth and juvenile stage” – something that previous studies on the species had failed to notice.
The fragments found include a partial snout with teeth and tooth bases, partial braincase and a section of upper jaw with tooth bases. From this they can estimate the entire baby skull to have been about 30cm in total.