Home / Science / Scientists refurbish baffling 250-million-year-old nautical invertebrate with a bizarre hammerhead mouth

Scientists refurbish baffling 250-million-year-old nautical invertebrate with a bizarre hammerhead mouth


The fossilized skull of Atopodenatus unicus and a indication reconstruction. (Nick Fraser)

Not all systematic insights need a $1.1 billion experiment to observe sobriety waves, or direct that a hulk particle collider be buried underneath Europe. Sometimes all that’s indispensable are a few bucks value of displaying clay and toothpicks — and, well, a span of precious 250-million-year-old fossils.

The fossils in doubt embody an surprising reptilian skull, tiny though finale in a unexpected flaring mouth, like a face of a hammerhead shark or a obese harmonica. Within a weird beak were rows and rows of needle teeth, stumping a paleontologists who had unearthed it where a sea once lonesome tools of China, millions of years ago.

The breakthrough came when they motionless to refurbish a creature’s conduct in brightly-colored putty. “The jaw arrangement is unequivocally unusual, and we indispensable to be certain that supposition as to how a jaw would tighten unequivocally would work,” Nick Fraser, an consultant on Triassic animals during a National Museum of Scotland and an author of a investigate recently published in a biography Science Advances, told The Washington Post.


A reformation of a weird mouth in clay. (Olivier Rieppel/The Field Museum)

The invertebrate used a flared mouth to scratch divided algae and plants from submerged rocks, and afterwards it sucked down a flowing mix. “By gulping in this glass brew of plant matter and sea water, a animal could tighten a mouth,” Fraser said, “and, regulating a tongue, force a H2O out of a side of a mouth and opposite a filter shaped by a needle-shaped teeth.” The final idea was a quarrel of chisel-like teeth during a heading corner of a jaw, that are identical to those of dinosaurs believed to have eaten plants. (Atopodentatus unicus wasn’t a dinosaur, however — those would arrive a few million years later.)

The work by Fraser and his colleagues overturns a 2014 supposition that A. unicus was even some-more bizarre. A formerly detected citation seemed to have a bifurcated muzzle that fit together vertically, like a teeth of a zipper. That struck Li Chun, an author of a Science Advances news and a paleontologist at Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in China, as a bit laboured — even for a weirdness of a early Triassic period. In his view, Li wrote to The Post in an email, a 2014 skull was dejected and too badly recorded to refurbish a strange structure.

Fraser pronounced he understands how a initial paleontologists finished adult during a wrong conclusion. Thanks to the span of new fossils, that seem to be in most improved condition, Fraser is assured that this indication is closer to a truth. “We’re certain we have this sold aspect of a animal correctly.” There’s still copiousness of poser left, however: No one knows what a a juvenile Atopodentatus was like, or how they mated.


An artist’s delivery of Atopodentatus unicus (Y. Chen/Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology)

Even but a vertical zipper mouth, Atopodentatus unicus is still an peculiar beast. There are unequivocally few reptilian herbivores in a sea — modern-day examples embody a sea iguana, a immature turtle and not a whole lot else.

To hear Fraser tell it, Atopodentatus unicus owed a singular existence to genocide — and lots of it. The invertebrate lived in a early Triassic, in a arise of a Permian annihilation event. Known also as a Great Dying, a Permian extinction was a indicate in time when 9 in each 10 sea class vanished. Many formerly full ecological niches were left far-reaching open, call an evolutionary free-for-all, including Atopodentatus unicus and a tusked reptile forerunner Dicynodon.

“You had a wiping of a slate,” Fraser said, and afterwards a duration of biological experimentation. “There was an blast of new life forms, and they were crazy.”

Article source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/09/scientists-reconstruct-baffling-250-million-year-old-aquatic-reptile-with-a-strange-hammerhead-mouth/

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