STL Science Center

STL Science Center

29 June 2011

The Tale of Wealden Lake

In the Cretaceous the land was certainly different. For one, there were vast oceans where there is now land and the mountains we know where not as they are today. In Europe a large portion of England and France were under water and that body of water was called Wealden Lake. Deltas and alluvial plains and rivers drained into the Caspian Sea sized Wealden Lake near London and south in middle France. Along the shores and on the plains, deltas, and rivers lived many different prehistoric mammals, insects, fish, crocodiles, and dinosaurs. One of these dinosaurs was, of course, Baryonyx. In one particular delta, near what is known as Smokejacks Pit at Wallis Wood, Ockley near Dorking in Surrey (in red), a man named William Walker, an amateur fossil collector, stumbled upon a large claw sticking out of the clay on a January day in 1983. After excavating the claw with some help he contacted the Natural History Museum in London who then sent Alan Charig and Angela Miller to retrieve the remainder of the skeleton. In 1986 they wrote the description of the 70% complete skeleton which included the skull, making for easier description of the new and unique species, and gave it the name Baryonyx walkeri after its discoverer William Walker and its giant claw. The "lake" has unearthed many other animals and Baryonyx living along what would have been the plains, deltas, and tributaries have been found all over the United Kingdom including the Isle of Wight, in northwestern Spain (these include fossil trackways as well) and Portugal, and two claws in Niger Republic are thought to have come from a Baryonyx as well.

One of the interesting finds in England has been the bones and scales of fish found in the stomach area of Baryonyx fossils. This seems to positively identify Baryonyx as a fish eater (piscivorous) as believed. One view of how they hunted is that they hunted in the following manner:
waiting on riverbanks, resting on its forelimbs until a large fish such as Lepidotes (which was found in the belly of the type specimen in Surrey) swims past, then scoops it up with its large thumb claw. There were also Iguanodon bones in the stomach, so it may have attacked or scavenged them too. It walked on two legs.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to spend a year studying the ecosystem of that time, during that exact time period