110 million years ago there lived a strange dinosaur that used its mouth like a bulldozer that sucked at ground level.
It was found in the Sahara in 1976 by the French paleontologist Philippe Taquet , but was not named until 1999, when better-preserved remains were found that made it possible to describe this species. Its scientific name is a tribute to the country where it was found, Niger, and to the creator of the discovery: Nigersaurus taqueti .
It measured around 9 meters in length and “among all the dinosaurs, the Nigersaurus taqueti would get the Guinness award for the animal with the most teeth, around 500″, explained Paul Sereno, director of the research that analyzed this species of dinosaur.
It is a younger relative than the Diplodocus that lived in North America, therefore, its size is small to belong to the family of sauropods, those long-necked giants that make the earth tremble at every step they take in the saga ” Jurassic Park”. It weighed about 4 tons, something like a current elephant and, despite its robust legs typical of sauropods, Nigersaurus presents some peculiar morphological modifications.
Little bone for so much weight
It had a relatively short neck, with only 13 vertebrae. The tail is the only part of the axial column that contained solid bone. The rest of the spinal column was made up of pieces of scant bone material, reduced to thin sheets of bone. In the reconstruction of its skeleton, these vertebrae stand out as being so thin as to support so much weight and tension , “but we know, with everything, that it worked perfectly”, commented Jeffrey Wilson, a member of the team, about this morphological peculiarity.
This lightness of the spine is in keeping with a featherweight skull that invites reconsideration of various aspects of sauropod paleobiology and evolution.
“No other herbivorous tetrapod has evolved a skull of comparable size with bone so small that it is capable of withstanding the sustained impact of tooth-to-tooth shear […] No tetrapod has placed all of its teeth in such a distal position, let alone doing so with an elaborate battery of teeth. Somehow, this chewing apparatus was able to grow and maintain a body mass equivalent to that of an average elephant (around 4 tons).”
what a loudmouth
Because yes, the most significant characteristic of the Nigersaurus taqueti is found in its mouth. Filled with hundreds of tiny teeth, it faced downwards, not at the front of the skull, as is common in dinosaurs. Its mouth, wide and flat, closed like the two blades of an excavator crane and all the teeth were in front , giving it a very strange appearance in the recreations that have been made of this dinosaur. During much of 2021, it even became part of the memes that circulated on the internet.
It is thought that Nigersaurus taqueti shed its teeth very easily: approximately every 14 days . If it had more than 500, the Cretaceous Pérez Mouse had to equip itself with an army to carry out its work with this species.
The structure of its snout indicates that it was a browser , that is, it fed on leaves, young shoots, and the tips of branches of trees and shrubs. In the style of today’s giraffes, only Nigersaurus would do it with its head close to the ground. In fact, its mouth, so extraordinarily wide and square, would facilitate the collection of plants on the ground or any other flat surface.
Nigersaurus taqueti is one of the most common vertebrates in areas where fossil remains are found, and researchers believe it may have had an ecologically significant impact on the surface vegetation of various land areas during the Cretaceous.
Sereno, P. et all. 2007. Structural Extremes in a Cretaceous Dinosaur. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001230.