STL Science Center

STL Science Center

29 August 2015

The First Roof

Smithsonian displayed Protostega
Possessing a name that means "First Roof", it is not much wonder that Protostega had a completely enveloping shell. There are obviously some fenestrae in the plastron (ventral) and the carapace (dorsal). The fenestrae were likely covered with membranous elements and, externally, with dermal scutes that create the scale-like appearance of the shell and provide an appreciable amount of the protection of the shell. The bony elements are, of course, stronger and the main line of defense, but are limited in their size. This can be seen and has been mentioned, but the purpose of shell construction in this manner may not be straight forward. The purpose of fenestrations often is to allow space for muscles and other soft tissue constructions. In the turtles these purposes would have been likely, but also, spaces like these save weight in the turtle shell and are similar to the idea of pneumaticity in avian bones.

28 August 2015

Calm Seas

The calm movements of Plesiosaurus, if they were indeed calm, were not the only calm movements in the Mesozoic oceans. Even more calm, just as they are today for the most part, were the giant sea turtles that inhabited the same seas. One of the largest and most impressive specimens has been well represented across the United States by many finds. These finds were given a name in 1872 by E. D. Cope: Protostega gigas. At approximately 3m (9.8ft) from nose to tail, Protostega is the second largest known marine turtle (Archelon being the largest). The upper Cretaceous has many frightening predators, but most of them could not have cracked the shell of an adult sized Protostega so it was most likely safe from almost all harm once it reached an adult size. It had also had an extremely well built shell, as far as early turtles go, that allowed for flexibility in addition to remaining rigid.

27 August 2015


Plesiosaurus is popular in so many ways that we can easily defer to the massive might of Google and declare that even a cursory search there will turn up so many items that it would take one a millennium to go through it all. Some of that statement is a little hyperbolic, but not by much. The most depressing bit of Plesiosaurus knowledge that has massively impacted the general public, unfortunately, is the conjecture that the long famed and well known Loch Ness Monster is depicted, often, as an extant Plesiosaurus. The idea is equal parts farcical and intriguing, though, as a living group of plesiosaurs would be a great discovery, but is more than likely completely unfounded and unrealistic. In lieu of supporting and touting more mythologies about Plesiosaurus, however, let us say that the greatest contributions to the popular knowledge and love of Plesiosaurus comes in the form of art, books, and toys, particularly this little gem (perhaps not, but it makes me want to have the skills to make one):

26 August 2015

Streamlined Submarines

The long necks of Plesiosaurus made them slightly cumbersome at speed, but they were not truly built for speed and such a feat was probably reserved for escape or short bursts from below prey. The large robust bodies and smallish flippers of Plesiosaurus itself is actually quite ill suited to speedy activity, as it certainly was higher in drag than later short necked plesiosaurs with aerodynamic bodies.However, the triangular head of the animals must have allowed for some aerodynamic capabilities. The large round eyes and nostrils, situated near the eyes and high in the skull, did not create too much drag either it appears. A shortened tail did not aid in mobility and, again, was most well suited to reduce drag as it did not directly aid in mobility of the animal. It did, certainly, aid in the stabilization of the animal as it swam, which the flippers did as well in addition to moving the animal through the water. Almost penguin-esque, Plesiosaurus must have been quite agile and beautiful as it swam, if not powerful or terribly interesting.

25 August 2015

Writing It Down

Conybeare and other early Plesiosaurus scholars filled the libraries and scholarly journals, or annals of museums, with copious amounts of articles. Conybeare himself wrote a number of articles describing Plesiosaurus and comparing it to contemporary marine reptiles. Richard Owen also wrote a number of articles on marine reptiles, including Plesiosaurus, that are well known. Many of the earliest accounts come from England, in fact. Plesiosaurus, though, is a worldly reptile and has been discovered in areas as diverse as Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, and Germany. The papers here are more than enough to get a fairly good history of Plesiosaurus and a lot of quality descriptions of the genus.

24 August 2015

Cryptozoology Keeps Plesiosaurus Alive

The sheer number of plesiosaurs discovered across the globe has led to many, many documentaries, news reports, and tons of other television and movie spots (I am still a little sad that none of these wonderful animals made an appearance in Jurassic World). It has also led to a lot of sightings across the globe, some of which make Nessie look like a weak Plesiosaurus sighting. Therefore, for today, skipping the video shared yesterday, I will let this list of videos do the work for us:
For fun, though not a "paper dinosaur".

23 August 2015

Successful at Being Kid Friendly

Plesiosaurus was and is most definitely well loved by children of all ages.  There are bits of information everywhere on the internet, off the internet, and basically anywhere one could think to look for information on fossil animals. Unfortunately most of these sites online are dinosaur sites like KidsDigDinos, Dinosaur Jungle, and other dinosaur fact pages. There are also videos and copious amounts of black and white photos that can be used for coloring sheets. The video is probably the most entertaining thing online: