STL Science Center

STL Science Center

03 February 2012

Welcome to Niger!

Too many names to reiterate the copyright above, sorry folks
The ridiculous older cousin of dinosaurs like Rapetosaurus, Nigersaurus was also a diplodocid sauropod from Africa. Living during the middle Cretaceous in what is now the Niger Republic in central Africa, Nigersaurus was far away from Madagascar and the time period of Rapetosaurus as well and had, in fact, gone extinct before Rapetosaurus is thought to have shown up in the fossil record. The skeleton of this dinosaur was found in Niger in 1976 by one Philippe Taquet, a French paleontologist and was described in 1999 by Paul Sereno and others. Why the hold up in identifying the remains as a dinosaur as yet undiscovered you may ask yourself. It honestly isn't that Taquet had not described it; in truth, he did in 1976 in a paper. The reason is much more that this dinosaur, one of the richest genera in the geological formation in which it is found, was subject to a great deal of scientific inquiry between 1976 and 1999 and the results of all of that science coming together over all of those years demanded that a second description be entered into record to document all of the new things known about Nigersaurus.

One thing that is truly odd about Nigersaurus is its face. This dinosaur looks like it was trying to be born a Diplodocus or a Rapetosaurus but had a few DNA splicing errors at some point in the egg. What may have started as some sort of bewildering mutation, and most likely did not but was evolved over time to accommodate the food sources of the region better and allowed the dinosaur's species to survive, ended up shaping the very strange face of a dinosaur that walked about Africa for a good 20 million years. This adaptation/bizarre mutation that resulted in Nigersaurus left us with the remains of a diplodocid with an extremely shortened face and a much wider mouth than its cousins. In fact, that mouth looks like a vacuum attachment. Inside that bizarre mouth is a dental battery consisting of over 100 small sharp teeth at a time, making the animal more like a wood chipper than a gentle herbivore. Nigersaurus puts all of the amazing hadrosaur dental batteries to shame faster than a young Mike Tyson (there was a faster knockout on record, but I cannot find a reliable source)

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