|We miss you, Bill Watterson.|
|Smok wawelsi, who might not look like this.|
A phylogenetic assessment was outside the scope of Niedzwiedzki et al. (2012), as it is the subject of Niedzwiedzki’s PhD thesis. The authors don’t go too much farther than placing Smok in Archosauria, as it shares features in common with theropods and rauisuchians—two groups that converged a great deal during the Late Triassic. Additionally, it presents a few more plesiomorphic (primitive) features that you wouldn’t expect in either a theropod or rauisuchian. Interestingly, Smok shared its environment with with three prominent rauisuchians: Batrachotomus, Polonosuchus, and Teratosaurus. I guess we’ll continue to wait for a full description and/or phylogenetic analysis.
|Femur bones of Smok, Lilensternus, and Postosuchus|
And then, this last January, Qvarnstrom, Ahlberg, &Niedzwiedzki (2019) published a paper discussing osteophagy in Smok based on several coprolites associated with body fossils and footprints assigned to that genus. The authors write:
The material of S. wawelski is associated with numerous bones of a large dicynodont as well as other vertebrates. Many of these bones show deep bite marks; one juvenile dicynodont fibula has had its distal head bitten off. The size of the bite marks matches the teeth of S. wawelski, which suggests that this predator was at least an occasional osteophage.
Analysis of the associated coprolites indicates that animals of all ages, growth rates, and both terrestrial and aquatic were all preyed on by Smok. Some of the teeth match the size and shape of Smok itself, suggesting that it either swallowed its own broken crowns (not unreasonable) or that this predator was not above cannibalism. In addition to coprolites and bone-rich regurgitalites (basically fossil vomit) containing larger pieces of bone mean that Smok threw up larger, indigestible fragments as predatory birds do today.
Osteophagy is rare in reptiles and, in fact, the authors
note that Tyrannosaurus rex, of all
archosaurs, provides a comparable model for the kind of large-scale osteophagy
that Smok exhibits:
|Three Smok coprolites, packed to the gills with bone fragments|
The coprolites of S. wawelski contain at least as much bone per volume as T. rex, and the size fractions of bones and the degree of etching are very similar. Even though S. wawelski is considerably smaller than these tyrannosaurs, we conclude that it occupied a similar ecological role of osteophagous top predator.
So we might not know exactly what kind of archosaur Smok was, but we do know that it was very large, it ate pretty much everything it came into contact with. The jury's still out on what kind of archosaur it was, exactly, but I'm sure we'll find out before too long. My money's on a theropod identity since there are already a bunch of rauisuchians in the same area.