Daily lives of fossil reptiles

Robert Coram (UK) The Mesozoic and Cenozoic deposits of Southern England have long been a rich source of fossil reptiles. Past finds of great historical importance include some of the earliest known examples of dinosaurs, ichthyosaurs and pterosaurs. Fossil material, including new species, continues to be revealed, mainly at rapidly eroding coastal sites. All these reptiles would have been active participants in their local ecosystems, whether on land or in the sea. Much information about the roles they played and their interactions with other organisms can be gleaned from their skeletal anatomy and from comparison with living relatives such as crocodiles. What this article is concerned with, however, is evidence of specific incidents in the lives, and deaths, of individual reptiles; tiny snapshots of opportunities, mishaps and the daily drudge of staying alive. These add more detail and colour to our knowledge of the lifestyles of these long-vanished animals. This evidence will be provided by four selected terrestrial and marine deposits from southern England, spanning the last quarter of a billion years of Earth history (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. Geological map showing locations of deposits discussed in the text. (1) Triassic Otter Sandstone of South Devon; (2) Jurassic Lower Lias of the Somerset (a) and Dorset (b) coasts; (3) Cretaceous Wealden beds of the Isle of Wight (IOW on map); and (4) Paleogene Hamstead beds of the Isle of Wight. Trace fossils in a desert world – the Triassic Otter Sandstone Rocks dating from the Triassic period, laid down between … Read More

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Antarctic amphibian from 245 million years ago

Sarda Sahney (UK) The beautiful thing about the Antarctic is that it is one of Earth’s last unexplored frontiers. New climatoligical, geological and palaeontological advances are regularly made on this continent and, recently, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology announced the discovery here of a fossilised amphibian that lived more than 245Ma during the Triassic period. Its presence suggests that the climate at the time here was mild enough to allow cold-blooded creatures to live near Pangea’s southern margin, at least seasonally. This news is of particular relevance to my work, so I was very excited when I heard about it. For those of you who want to get technical, the amphibian, Parotosuchus was a large predatory temnospondyl that inhabited lakes and rivers. Put more prosaically, it was basically a 2m (6.5ft) long animal that superficially resembled a modern day crocodile, but was actually an amphibian. Fig. 1. Parotosuchus , discovered in the Fremouw Formation of the Transantarctic Montains. Parotosuchus differs from modern-day amphibians because of its form, large size and the fact that it was covered in a scaly skin. It was similar in that it was amphibious, so liked to live both in the water and on land (but never far from the water), and also swam in an eel-like fashion. Previously, Parotosuchus remains have been discovered in Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia and South Africa. In fact, southern Africa was, until now, considered to be its most southerly range. However, in the Triassic period, Africa and Antarctica were joined together … Read More

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