STL Science Center

STL Science Center

16 January 2013

The Tiniest Fossil

At 13 centimeters long Propanoplosaurus' type specimen vies for the distinction of world's smallest vertebrate fossil (it has no chance against invertebrates), though it does not win; at the moment the smallest fossil footprints found belong to a Carboniferous era amphibian which would have had to have been tiny to make the impressions. Anyhow, the entire animal probably would have been about 24 centimeters from nose to tail, which still makes it a rather small animal. Considering it was still a baby, it was probably not far from the nest or mama when it died unless 1) nodosaurs were not good mothers and left the babies to raise themselves, 2) some sort of catastrophe separated them, like a flood or a forest fire, or 3) it really was not separated from its herd or family but this is all that has been recovered. Those are the scenarios that come to mind right away, but of course there are a nearly limitless range of possibilities that we can conjure up to explain this fossil. The developing osteoderms present on the skull, regardless of how this baby came to be a fossil, offer a unique view of the early growth stages of nodosaurs; providing that all nodosaurs went through similar growth stages. Hopefully this fossil and its unique cross pattern of bone plates in its skull will shed some more light on how these big armored dinosaurs developed throughout their lives.

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