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Thaumatodracon – the Wonder Dragon

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In 2012 I co-presented a poster at the SVP annual meeting on a new plesiosaur from Lyme Regis, UK (see my article about it here). The long awaited follow up paper was finally published this summer in the latest volume of Palaeontographica A (Smith and Araújo, 2017) and the beast now has a name, Thaumatodracon wiedenrothi, meaning ‘Wiedenroth’s Wonder Dragon’.

The Lower Saxony State Museum commissioned artist Luzia Soares to create a stylistic impression of Thaumatodracon. Copyright L. Soares 2017

Thaumatodracon was a top-predator that cruised around the shallow Tethys Ocean that covered Europe about 195 million years ago. It had a 60 cm long skull with dozens of sharp teeth, an estimated total body length of 6.5 m, and may have weighed around 2 tonnes. The specimen was collected from Lyme Regis in 1969 by Kurt Wiedenroth, an amateur German palaeontologist to whom we dedicated the new species name. The Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover (Lower Saxony State Museum) acquired the specimen later that year where it was subsequently prepared by Elijah Widmann during the 1990s.

Kurt Wiedenroth hunting for ammonites in Lower Cretaceous deposits near Hanover, Germany. Kurt discovered Thaumatodracon wiedenrothi in Lyme Regis in 1969. Photo courtesy of Sönke Simonsen.

The nearly complete skull and neck of this plesiosaur are exquisitely preserved, and Ricardo Araújo and I visited the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hanover in 2011, where we identified it as a new species that fills a gap in the fossil record of rhomaleosaurids. Diagnostic ones, anyway. The holotype of ‘Plesiosaurus’ macrocephalus, also from Lyme Regis, could well be a rhomaleosaurid, but since it is a juvenile it is difficult to diagnose. Our findings in Hanover were too late to include in my PhD thesis dedicated to rhomaleosaurids, but better late than never.

The preserved parts of the skeleton – the head and neck – are highlighted in dark grey

The holotype specimen, laid out in dorsal view.

Details and interpretation of the skull

In addition to a thorough comparative description, we conducted morphometric analyses to compare Thaumatodracon to all other rhomaleosaurid plesiosaurs. We found that the new taxon possesses transitional characteristics that are consistent with its intermediate position in the plesiosaur family tree. This is also more or less what we would predict to find because it is from the Sinemurian, which makes it stratigraphically intermediate between the older Hettangian rhomaleosaurid fauna (Atychodracon) and younger Toarcian rhomaleosaurid fauna (Rhomaleosaurus, Meyerasaurus).

The new genus is a nod to ‘Thaumatosaurus’, a powerful name that was once used interchangeably with Rhomaleosaurus. It was also widely applied to the holotype specimen of Meyerasaurus victor before I came along and made ‘Thaumatosaurus’ a nomen dubium (see my article about that here). So, I chose the name Thaumatodracon as atonement, but also because plesiosaurs were true wonders of the prehistoric world and Ricardo and I wanted to give this new species a name to reflects that.

Rhomaleosaurids have traditionally been regarded as pliosaurs. Although we called Thaumatodracon a pliosaur in our original poster presentation, the position of Rhomaleosauridae within Plesiosauria has since become disputed. Several studies now suggest that the rhomaleosaurid family diverged from other plesiosaurs before the pliosaur/plesiosauroid dichotomy, which is why we avoid calling Thaumatodracon a pliosaur in our paper.

The journal has requested that I do not share the PDF publicly, but I’m free to email it, so drop me an email if you’re interested: [email protected]

Smith, A.S. and Araújo, R. 2017. Thaumatodracon wiedenrothi, a morphometrically and stratigraphically intermediate new rhomaleosaurid plesiosaurian from the Lower Jurassic (Sinemurian) of Lyme Regis. Palaeontographica Abteilung A, 308 (4-6), 89-125. doi:10.1127/pala/308/2017/89

Written by Adam S. Smith

August 29th, 2017 at 5:28 pm

A new Lyme Regis pliosaur

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Earlier this month I co-authored a poster at SVP 2012 describing a new pliosaur from the Sinemurian of Lyme Regis (Smith and Araújo, 2012). I was unable to attend the conference in person so my collaborator and friend Ricardo Araujo was on hand to present our preliminary findings.

Ricardo Araújo stands proudly next to our poster at SVP 2012. Ricardo is conducting a PhD on plesiosaurs at the Southern Methodist University, Texas.

The spectacular specimen was discovered at Black Ven, Lyme Regis, and was acquired by the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover, where it was expertly prepared in the 1990s by their preparator, Elija Widman. The fossil consists of an almost complete skull and vertebral column.

The Lyme Regis pliosaur as articulated

As explained in our poster, the fossil represents a new taxon that is both stratigraphically and morphologically intermediate between known Hettangian and Toarcian rhomaleosaurid pliosaurs. Which makes perfect sense. A legible (just about) jpg version of the poster is available here or by clicking the small version below, and a PDF of the abstract is available here. This is very much a work in progress though and more of a sneak preview than a final word. We have a paper in prep which will provide a more detailed description of the specimen.

Poster for SVP 2012

Smith, A.S. and Araújo, R. 2012. A new rhomaleosaurid pliosaur from the Sinemurian (Lower Jurassic) of Lyme Regis, UK. Program and abstracts, 72nd Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Supplement to the online Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 74. [PDF here]

[Incidentally, how does one cite an SVP abstract correctly these days?]

Prepared ‘Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur’ is new taxon

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I previously reported (see here and here) on the plesiosauroid skeleton discovered in 2007 in Kreis Hoxter, near Bielefeld, Northern Germany. The specimen was excavated from the Pliensbachian (Lower Jurassic) age strata in ten large blocks by the LWL-Museum für Naturkunde, Münsterand. A major proportion of the fossil has now been prepared by Manfred Schlösser: the skeleton is almost complete and quite spectacular.

Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur

'Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur' on display in the Köln Museum. Looks like the tail is complete. (Photo by Sönke Simonsen)

In 2010 the ‘Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur’ was displayed in the Römisch Germanisches exhibition in the Köln Museum (The photos here show the specimen as displayed) and in April 2011 the specimen will comprise part of the new archaeological and palaeontological exhibition “Fundgeschichten” in the Westfälische Museum für Archäologie in Herne. German press reports early in 2011 (see here for example) announced that the ‘Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur’ represents a new taxon and a description is currently in press.

Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur

'Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur' in the Köln Museum, showing detail of the cervical vertebrae (Photo by Sönke Simonsen)

Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur

The 'Kreis Hoxter plesiosaur' in the Köln Museum showing detail of the pelvic region (Photo by Sönke Simonsen)

Thanks to Sönke Simonsen for information and photographs.

Written by Adam S. Smith

April 8th, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Long-necked plesiosaur discovered in northern Germany

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A four-metre-long plesiosaur skeleton has been discovered by in Northern Germany by an amateur palaeontologist. 19-year-old fossil collector Sönke Simonsen discovered the specimen in June whilst looking for fossils with his dad in a quarry at Tongrube in Kreis Hoxter, near Bielefeld. “The first thing I discovered was a caudal-vertebra” said Simonsen, “but then I realised that to the left and also to the right direction there were more and more vertebrae.” The specimen is almost complete, but unfortunately the head has not yet been found. The fossil hunters contacted the local LWL-Museum für Naturkunde, Münster, who have initiated an excavation to collect the specimen. The plesiosaur has elongated cervical vertebrae and a long neck, typical elasmosaurid features.

plesiosaur germany
Some neck vertebrae of the new german plesiosaur (photo from here)

The specimen is especially important for two reasons. Firstly, plesiosaurs are very rare in the north of Germany, and this represents the first significantly complete specimen of a long-necked plesiosaur from this region. Secondly, the specimen was discovered in rocks that are Pliensbachian (Lower Jurassic) in age. This period in plesiosaur history is very poorly known, so the new specimen may provide rare information on the evolution of plesiosaurs during the Jurassic.

Written by Adam S. Smith

July 29th, 2007 at 1:39 pm