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GIANT PLIOSAUR UPDATE



As Steve Cole says he's mentioning it in the next _Dinosaur Discoveries_, I
really ought to say that that new, giant pliosaur I mentioned some time ago now
has a more colourful history. See the archives
(http://www.cmnh.org/fun/dinosaur-archive) for the original report.

Rediscovered by my colleague Colin McHenry in Peterborough Museum is a single
huge (cervical?) vertebrae that appears to belong to a pliosaur that was
somewhere between 17-20 m in length (_Kronosaurus_ and _Megalneurosaurus_,
previous record holders, are 14-15 m). The vertebrae was painted blue and used
as a doorstop for years. Before Colin's reassessment, it was thought to have
come from a cetiosaur. 

Dave Martill and Colin announced the discovery and its implications on Radio 4's
_Natural History Programme_. I said I'd prepare a transcript of this programme
for distribution, but I was dissuaded by Colin after Arthur Cruickshank looked
at the bone and decided that it was, after all, a cetiosaur caudal vertebrae.
Oh dear.. notions of 20 m pliosaurs go down the pan.. suddenly, Colin feels very
silly (but not that silly, as he still has other material, including a snout tip
about the size of a small car [slight exaggeration]).

Then.. they look again. Ok, turns out it *is* a pliosaur vertebrae after all.
Colin, Arthur C, Dave Martill and Leslie Noe finally published on it in
_Palaeontology Newsletter 32_: an abstract entitled 'Just when you thought it
was safe to go back in the water: the biggest pliosaur yet'. So we have a 17-
20 m pliosaur once again. 

Many interesting speculations attach to this animal, as it was swimming around
(in the mid Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay fauna) in an environment where marine
reptile diversity was already very high. Resource partitioning and a great deal
of cross-taxon aggression would have been the order of the day (hey, just like
the Rancho la Brea carnivorans.. my project of the week). But what these huge
pliosaurs were really doing is still a bit of a mystery. A new one described in
_Journal of Geology_ by Cruickshank, Martill and Noe - _Pachycostasaurus_
(spelling may be wrong) - seems to have been a slow-swimming benthic form. It
has pachyostatic (that is, made of very thickened, dense bone) ribs, girdles and
gastralia, a remarkable adaptation amongst otherwise pelagic, speedy reptiles.

Quote away Steve.

"How did anyone's ass get so big?"
"For god's sake, have a piece of fruit you fat cow!"

"Sister, so, you have a sister..."

DARREN NAISH
dwn194@soton.ac.uk