Secondary adaptation to aquatic life occurred independently in several amniote lineages, including reptiles during the Mesozoic and mammals during the Cenozoic. These evolutionary shifts to aquatic environments imply major morphological modifications, especially of the feeding apparatus. Mesozoic (250-65 Myr) marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, mosasaurid squamates, crocodiles, and turtles, exhibit a wide range of adaptations to aquatic feeding and a broad overlap of their tooth morphospaces with those of Cenozoic marine mammals. However, despite these multiple feeding behavior convergences, suction feeding, though being a common feeding strategy in aquatic vertebrates and in marine mammals in particular, has been extremely rarely reported for Mesozoic marine reptiles.
Plesiosaurians are an extinct group of highly derived Mesozoic marine reptiles with a global distribution that spans 135 million years from the Early Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous. During their long evolutionary history they maintained a unique body plan with two pairs of large wing-like flippers, but their locomotion has been a topic of debate for almost 200 years. Key areas of controversy have concerned the most efficient biologically possible limb stroke, e.g. whether it consisted of rowing, underwater flight, or modified underwater flight, and how the four limbs moved in relation to each other: did they move in or out of phase? Previous studies have investigated plesiosaur swimming using a variety of methods, including skeletal analysis, human swimmers, and robotics. We adopt a novel approach using a digital, three-dimensional, articulated, free-swimming plesiosaur in a simulated fluid. We generated a large number of simulations under various joint degrees of freedom to investigate how the locomotory repertoire changes under different parameters. Within the biologically possible range of limb motion, the simulated plesiosaur swims primarily with its forelimbs using an unmodified underwater flight stroke, essentially the same as turtles and penguins. In contrast, the hindlimbs provide relatively weak thrust in all simulations. We conclude that plesiosaurs were forelimb-dominated swimmers that used their hind limbs mainly for maneuverability and stability.
Titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs were the most diverse and abundant large-bodied herbivores in the southern continents during the final 30 million years of the Mesozoic Era. Several titanosaur species are regarded as the most massive land-living animals yet discovered; nevertheless, nearly all of these giant titanosaurs are known only from very incomplete fossils, hindering a detailed understanding of their anatomy. Here we describe a new and gigantic titanosaur, Dreadnoughtus schrani, from Upper Cretaceous sediments in southern Patagonia, Argentina. Represented by approximately 70% of the postcranial skeleton, plus craniodental remains, Dreadnoughtus is the most complete giant titanosaur yet discovered, and provides new insight into the morphology and evolutionary history of these colossal animals. Furthermore, despite its estimated mass of about 59.3 metric tons, the bone histology of the Dreadnoughtus type specimen reveals that this individual was still growing at the time of death.
The Ganzhou area of Jiangxi Province, southern China is becoming one of the most productive oviraptorosaurian localities in the world. A new oviraptorid dinosaur was unearthed from the uppermost Upper Cretaceous Nanxiong Formation of Ganzhou area. It is characterized by an anterodorsally sloping occiput and quadrate (a feature shared with Citipati), a circular supratemporal fenestra that is much smaller than the lower temporal fenestra, and a dentary in which the dorsal margin above the external mandibular fenestra is strongly concave ventrally. The position of the anteroventral corner of the external naris in relation to the posterodorsal corner of the antorbital fenestra provides new insight into the craniofacial evolution of oviraptorosaurid dinosaurs. A phylogenetic analysis recovers the new taxon as closely related to the Mongolian Citipati. Six oviraptorid dinosaurs from the Nanxiong Formation (Ganzhou and Nanxiong) are distributed within three clades of the family. Each of the three clades from the Nanxiong Formation has close relatives in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia, and in both places each clade may have had a specific diet or occupied a different ecological niche. Oviraptorid dinosaurs were geographically widespread across Asia in the latest Cretaceous and were an important component of terrestrial ecosystems during this time.
Three large lamniform shark vertebrae are described from the Lower Cretaceous of Texas. We interpret these fossils as belonging to a single individual with a calculated total body length of 6.3 m. This large individual compares favorably to another shark specimen from the roughly contemporaneous Kiowa Shale of Kansas. Neither specimen was recovered with associated teeth, making confident identification of the species impossible. However, both formations share a similar shark fauna, with Leptostyrax macrorhiza being the largest of the common lamniform sharks. Regardless of its actual identification, this new specimen provides further evidence that large-bodied lamniform sharks had evolved prior to the Late Cretaceous.
The abundance of dinosaur eggs in Upper Cretaceous strata of Henan Province, China led to the collection and export of countless such fossils. One of these specimens, recently repatriated to China, is a partial clutch of large dinosaur eggs (Macroelongatoolithus) with a closely associated small theropod skeleton. Here we identify the specimen as an embryo and eggs of a new, large caenagnathid oviraptorosaur, Beibeilong sinensis. This specimen is the first known association between skeletal remains and eggs of caenagnathids. Caenagnathids and oviraptorids share similarities in their eggs and clutches, although the eggs of Beibeilong are significantly larger than those of oviraptorids and indicate an adult body size comparable to a gigantic caenagnathid. An abundance of Macroelongatoolithus eggs reported from Asia and North America contrasts with the dearth of giant caenagnathid skeletal remains. Regardless, the large caenagnathid-Macroelongatoolithus association revealed here suggests these dinosaurs were relatively common during the early Late Cretaceous.
We describe the first diagnostic dinosaur fossil from Washington State. The specimen, which consists of a proximal left femur, was recovered from the shallow marine rocks of the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) Cedar District Formation (Nanaimo Group) and is interpreted as pertaining to a large theropod on the basis of its hollow medullary cavity and proximally placed fourth trochanter. The Washington theropod represents one of the northernmost occurrences of a Mesozoic dinosaur on the west coast of the United States and one of only a handful from the Pacific coast of Laramidia during the Cretaceous. Its isolated nature and preservation in marine rocks suggest that the element was washed in from a nearby fluvial system. If the femur pertains to a tyrannosauroid, which seems likely given its size and the widespread occurrence of the group across Laramidia during Late Cretaceous times, then it would represent an earlier occurrence of large body size than previously recognized (complete femur length estimated at 1.2 meters). Uncertainty surrounding the latitude of deposition of the Nanaimo Group (i.e., the Baja-British Columbia hypothesis) precludes assigning the Washington theropod to either of the putative northern or southern biogeographic provinces of Laramidia.
Crocodyliforms serve as important taphonomic agents, accumulating and modifying vertebrate remains. Previous discussions of Mesozoic crocodyliform feeding in terrestrial and riverine ecosystems have often focused on larger taxa and their interactions with equally large dinosaurian prey. However, recent evidence suggests that the impact of smaller crocodyliforms on their environments should not be discounted. Here we present direct evidence of feeding by a small crocodyliform on juvenile specimens of a ‘hypsilophodontid’ dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) Kaiparowits Formation of southern Utah. Diagnostic crocodyliform bite marks present on a left scapula and a right femur, as well as a partial probable crocodyliform tooth crown (ovoid in cross-section) preserved within a puncture on the right femur, comprise the bulk of the feeding evidence. Computed tomography scans of the femoral puncture reveal impact damage to the surrounding bone and that the distal tip of the embedded tooth was missing prior to the biting event. This is only the second reported incidence of a fossil crocodyliform tooth being found embedded directly into prey bone. These bite marks provide insight into the trophic interactions of the ecosystem preserved in the Kaiparowits Formation. The high diversity of crocodyliforms within this formation may have led to accentuated niche partitioning, which seems to have included juvenile dinosaurian prey.
Ornithopods were key herbivorous dinosaurs in Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems, with a variety of tooth morphologies. Several clades, especially the ‘duck-billed’ hadrosaurids, became hugely diverse and abundant almost worldwide. Yet their evolutionary dynamics have been disputed, particularly whether they diversified in response to events in plant evolution. Here we focus on their remarkable dietary adaptations, using tooth and jaw characters to examine changes in dental disparity and evolutionary rate. Ornithopods explored different areas of dental morphospace throughout their evolution, showing a long-term expansion. There were four major evolutionary rate increases, the first among basal iguanodontians in the Middle-Late Jurassic, and the three others among the Hadrosauridae, above and below the split of their two major clades, in the middle of the Late Cretaceous. These evolutionary bursts do not correspond to times of plant diversification, including the radiation of the flowering plants, and suggest that dental innovation rather than coevolution with major plant clades was a major driver in ornithopod evolution.
Fossil dinosaur embryos are surprisingly rare, being almost entirely restricted to Upper Cretaceous strata that record the late stages of non-avian dinosaur evolution. Notable exceptions are the oldest known embryos from the Early Jurassic South African sauropodomorph Massospondylus and Late Jurassic embryos of a theropod from Portugal. The fact that dinosaur embryos are rare and typically enclosed in eggshells limits their availability for tissue and cellular level investigations of development. Consequently, little is known about growth patterns in dinosaur embryos, even though post-hatching ontogeny has been studied in several taxa. Here we report the discovery of an embryonic dinosaur bone bed from the Lower Jurassic of China, the oldest such occurrence in the fossil record. The embryos are similar in geological age to those of Massospondylus and are also assignable to a sauropodomorph dinosaur, probably Lufengosaurus. The preservation of numerous disarticulated skeletal elements and eggshells in this monotaxic bone bed, representing different stages of incubation and therefore derived from different nests, provides opportunities for new investigations of dinosaur embryology in a clade noted for gigantism. For example, comparisons among embryonic femora of different sizes and developmental stages reveal a consistently rapid rate of growth throughout development, possibly indicating that short incubation times were characteristic of sauropodomorphs. In addition, asymmetric radial growth of the femoral shaft and rapid expansion of the fourth trochanter suggest that embryonic muscle activation played an important role in the pre-hatching ontogeny of these dinosaurs. This discovery also provides the oldest evidence of in situ preservation of complex organic remains in a terrestrial vertebrate.