Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Big Finish to 2018

Despite Sergey Krasovskiy's gorgeous art, it is not Crittendenceratops.
First of all, sorry for not writing anything in December. We spent half the month on vacation and the other half madly trying to finish things before the vacation and playing catch-up after the vacation. It was a good vacation; we went to Kauai. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Kauai but it’s the complete opposite of Alaska, especially during December. I did some writing while on vacation but nothing serious and besides I didn’t have any of my reference material on-hand. However, I did work on a longer-term project that's been on my mind for awhile now. Details as they emerge.

For this short post, the first of the new year, I want to talk about my favorite paleo news story of 2018.

Surprisingly, it’s not a dinosaur. My favorite groups—ceratopsians and theropods—didn’t get a lot of love in 2018. Caihong was an early surprise and those two alvarezsaurids were also nice, but Crittendenceratops is hardly worth mentioning despite its unusually lengthy description and extremely speculative skeletal and life restoration given the material described. If I had to pick a favorite dinosaur story, it would be the recognition and erection of the Lessemsauridae, a group of very large “prosauropods” who were larger than the earliest true sauropods but lacked many of the skeletal features everyone assumed were necessary for gigantism (like columnar legs).

Oh, and another early surprise was the osteology of Buriolestes, a sauropodomorph so basal it was still carnivorous.

But none of these were my favorite paleo news story of 2018. No, the top spot goes to a story that’s actually similar to the Lessemsauridae story in that the animal in question is an unexpectedly gigantic member a group previously comprised of small to modestly large taxa: Lisowicia bojani.

Jaw-dropping illustration by Julius Csotonyi
An enormous “prosauropod” is surprising but not wholly out of left field. An elephant-sized dicynodont is out of an entirely different ballpark. Now, granted, I’m not an expert on dicynodonts, but the previous record-holders were Placerias, Stahleckeria and Ischigualastia—about the length and weight of modern cattle but shorter and bulkier. Dicynodonts famously had a “hybrid” stance: erect hindlimbs with semi-sprawling forelimbs. Dicynodonts were arguably the most successful herbivores of during the Triassic: having already weathered the Great Dying, they came out the other side in a more dominant and competition-free ecological position.

Cow-sized dicynodonts are fine and dandy, but Lisowicia tipped the scales at around nine tons which is more than an average adult African elephant (6.5 – 7 tons). It was more than 4.5 meters (14.75 ft) long and 2.6 meters (8.5 ft) tall. To accommodate such enormity, Lisowicia had erect forelimbs. It lived in Poland alongside basal dinosauriform Silesaurus and Smok, an enormous predatory archosaur (5 -6 meters; 16 – 20 ft) of uncertain phylogenetic affinity that was almost certainly capable of going after even the elephant-sized Lisowicia and I wonder if the latter lived in groups to help avoid such confrontations (turns out the two may have been neighbors after all).

In case you were unaware of Smok wawelski
There's still plenty left in the Triassic to surprise us!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. In other time periods there are strange animals and quirks of evolution but it's limited by things like climate, geography, what groups of animals happen to be alive at the time.
      In the Triassic there are no limits on the weirdness. No matter how weird the animals are they always get weirder. An era of unlimited weirdness. (sorry tried to correct spelling error and deleted my post)