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26th November, 2007

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Did the Flintstones have one of these?

Although fossilized bones had been found in the 1950s, the first public reports of the bizarre 100 million-year-old sauropod didn't emerge until 1976. But not until 2005 did famed paleontologist, Paul Sereno, and his team publish details of its amazing skull; furthermore, as reported in the 16th November, 2007, edition of the New York Times, “Only now has his team recognized the plant eater's peculiar anatomy and foraging behavior”.

This ancient, 30-foot-long “reptile”, which plodded across lush, forested floodplains found in what is today's Niger Republic, has overthrown at least one popularly-held idea about sauropods, particularly its long-necked “relatives” such as the famous North American Diplodocus — but more about that in a moment. In keeping with the tradition of giving every living thing a name that only the initiated can read, scientists have given it the Latin name Nigersaurus tacqueti. In a lighter moment they have conferred upon Nigersaurus a more popular title —“Mesozoic lawnmower”. Others loosely, and fondly, refer to it as an extinct “cow”. These nicknames capture the essence of this incredible creature — it had a wide, square muzzle armed with “more than 50 columns of teeth, all lined up along the jaws' front edges, forming, in effect, foot-long scissors”. With this unique apparatus brimming with needle-shaped teeth Nigersaurus scythed its way through low-growing herbs such as ferns and horsetails; grass didn't exist back in those days. Its jaw shape led Paul Sereno to liken it to a “hammerhead shark on legs”.

Another feature of Nigersaurus that has taken paleontologists by surprise is the

fragility of its skull. Some of the bones are so thin you can shine a light through them. As Paul Sereno put it, “It is just outlandish to think that an animal which weighs nearly as much as an elephant had a skull that was featherweight”. As happens over and over again when it comes to the wonders of creation, human beings have discovered something they never would have predicted. How can they possibly attribute such unexpected anatomy to mutation and natural selection? Exactly what the purpose was for such delicate bonery seems unclear.

As mentioned earlier, this beast has upset one long-held idea about long-necked dinosaurs. (Intriguingly, Nigersaurus itself was short-necked, but in other respects it closely resembles long-necked diplodocids.) My childhood dinosaur books depicted them with their heads up in the tree tops chomping on leaves. A careful study of the ear region revealed that Nigersaurus held its neck and head low, probably rarely rising above horizontal. Paleontologists now think that this pattern applies to all the diplodocids.

Some folks find dinosaurs — just as they find lizards, snakes, worms, and spiders — ugly and repulsive. Well, that's their right, of course. But surely if God and Jesus Christ deemed them worth designing and creating we should at the very least marvel at the testimony they provide to the ingenuity and sheer inventiveness of the Creator. I for one feel a little jealous at times of the angels; they saw these amazing creatures. I do sometimes wonder if believers will one day have the opportunity to somehow see them, too. After all, Psalm 84:11 tells us that, “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly”. Wouldn't it be a “good thing” to see a Nigersaurus?

Nigersaurus (Reuters)

For more information about Nigersaurus, see:

Bizarre Dinosaur Grazed Like a Cow

Troubled Life of the Nigersaurus

A Cowlike Dinosaur Comes into Focus

For a more technical review, see:

Structural Extremes in a Cretaceous Dinosaur

Want to know more about the passing parade of life in bygone ages? Read the eye-opening Dawn to Dusk article The first six days


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