EGU Blogs

dental structure

Which direction to take!?

One of the most important things palaeontologists and taxonomists do is the description of new species or fossils. Focussing on dinosaurs, because they’re the ones I know the best, there is a whole host of descriptive anatomy to get your head around. It’s not just the names of the bones; it’s also the names of the parts and structures within bones, including muscle scars and hypothesised muscles that attached to them. As well as this, you have to describe the relative position and spatial relationships between these elements to build a 3-dimensional image of a fossil based on descriptive terminology. This final part comes with a host of orientation related terminology, and can be incredibly confusing to decipher. At request from Sam Barnett (@Palaeosam), here’s an attempt to break it down, so that whenever you’re reading a description of a new species, you’ll hopefully be able to figure out some of the position-related jargon scientists have used!

Note, that while these can refer also to specific parts of the body, they can be used as relative terms too (e.g., the scutes are positioned dorsally, and the scutes are dorsal to the vertebral column).

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Horsedrosaurus, the dinosaur that wanted to be an equid.

The title of this makes no sense, but kind of emphasises the main point of this post. It’s pretty much a summary of a new paper, one on the feeding habits of hadrosaurid dinosaurs. These are the big advanced ornithopods, often considered to be the ‘bland’ lineage of ornithischians, and referred to as the ‘cows of the Cretaceous’. They also happen to be my favourite group of dinosaurs, simply because, with the exception of the more avian theropods, they are the only ones who are vaguely analogous to extant organisms; specifically, ungulates. This means that by comparing certain aspects of their morphology, we can make inferences about their behaviour and lifestyle, which is certainly one of the cooler aspects of Palaeontology. Unfortunately, this new article is published in Science, which means you either have to fork out for it, can’t read it, or have to go to some other media outlet (and let’s face it, no-one does that anymore in the era of blogging, right? Right??) ScienceNOW have been nice enough to cover it here though.

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