Leedsichthys: A very private suspension feeder

Dr Jeff Liston (UK) A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a prodigious private collection (at a secret location) on the south coast of England. The material is secured by bequest to a national museum collection. Representative of diverse localities and faunas, with scrupulously recorded collection data, beautifully stored in row upon row of display cabinets, it forced me to reflect on the fact that vertebrate palaeontology has always been particularly reliant on private collectors. Museums rarely have the ability to send their own staff out to prospect for, or retrieve, such specimens, and so hope to have people effectively to act on their behalf as their eyes in the field. To that extent, institutions often foster relationships with collectors, partly in the hope that they will get ‘first refusal’ in case anything significant is found by that collector, but also to try to ensure, wherever possible, that any such collecting takes place within the law. This reliance on private collectors is true around the world. Almost 20 years ago, two German collectors – Ralf Metzdorf and Matthias Metz – came to the Isle of Skye to look for ammonites, and inadvertently found Scotland’s first dinosaur. Their run of bad luck in ammonite hunting had started in northern Germany in the mid-eighties, when (as parts of two different school-age palaeontological groups) they had chanced upon the only German specimen of Leedsichthys, in a Middle Jurassic quarry in the Wiehen Mountains (Liston, 2010). And Leedsichthys – that … Read More

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