Atychodracon

The genus Atychodracon was erected by Smith (2015) to accommodate ‘Rhomaleosaurus’ megacephalus, because it is generically separarate from Rhomaleosaurus sensu stricto (Smith and Dyke, 2008). A. megacephalus is closely related to Eurycleidus and some authors have regarded A. megacephalus a distinct species of Eurycleidus.

The holotype specimen of A. megacephalus was housed in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery but was destroyed by enemy action during the World War II. However, surviving plaster casts of the holotype skull and forelimb provide enough data for a modern diagnosis of the taxon.

A neotype specimen of A. megacephalus was erected by Cruikshank (1994b). This fossil, nicknamed the ‘Barrow Kipper’ after the location it was discovered (Taylor and Martin, 1990), is on display at the New Walk Museum in Leicester, UK. This specimen has become a referred specimen (Smith, 2015). The skull of the Barrow Kipper was described in detail by Cruikshank (1994b) and is also on display at the New Walk Museum in Leicester, UK, in a case adjacent to the displayed skeleton. The skeleton has a replica skull cast from the original.

Cruickshank et al. (1991) proposed a specialised olfaction (or ‘underwater smelling’) system for plesiosaurs based on observations of the skull of A. megacephalus. The internal nares (or bony nostrils) on the palate are positioned anteriorly on the skull, and positioned anterior to the external nares on the dorsal skull roof. The internal nares are also associated with grooves that have been interpreted as an adaptation for channelling water into the nostrils. Under this hypothesis, the flow of water over the external nares was helped by the animal swimming, which maintained hydrodynamic pressure. The flow of water through the nasal ducts could have been ‘tasted’ by olfactory epithelia. If such a system existed it might have been a common adaptation among plesiosaurians, since all plesiosaurs have anteriorly positioned internal nares (Brown and Cruickshank, 1994).

See my blog article from 2015 about my paper naming and describing the surviving casts of the holotype of Atychodracon.

Holotype specimen of Atychodracon megacephalus in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery (from Swinton, 1948). The specimen was destroyed during the Second World War.
Three dimensional scan with texture (colour) removed of plaster cast (BGS GSM 118410) of the holotype (BRSMG Cb 2335) skull of Atychodracon megacephalus (Stutchbury, 1846) in ventral (palatal) view. Scale bar equals 100 mm. From Smith (2015)
Plaster cast (BGS GSM 118410) of the ventral surface of the right forelimb of the holotype of Atychodracon megacephalus (Stutchbury, 1846) (BRSMG Cb 2335). 1, three dimensional scan with texture (colour) removed, 2, photograph, 3, interpretation. From Smith (2015)
A referred specimen of Atychodracon megacephalus (the Barrow Kipper) in the New Walk Museum, Leicester (the skull is a cast.) The specimen was designated as the neotype after destruction of the original type during the Second World War. (photographs by A. S. Smith). With a restoration.
Front view of a referred specimen of Atychodracon megacephalus (the ‘Barrow Kipper’) in the New Walk Museum, Leicester.
Skull of a referred specimen of Atychodracon megacephalus (the ‘Barrow Kipper’) in the New Walk Museum, Leicester.

Atychodracon megacephalus

Species

A. megacephalus

Author

(Stutchbury, 1846)

Classification

Sauropterygia
Eosauropterygia
Eusauropterygia
Pistosauria
Plesiosauria
Plesiosauroidea
Rhomaleosauridae
Atychodracon

Age

Hettangian

Type location

Street-on-the-Fosse, a village about 14 km ENE of Street, Somerset, UK

Type specimen

BRSMG Cb 2335 (destroyed)

Referred material

Smith (2015) provided a list of referred material: LEICT G221.1851 (the neotype specimen) from Barrow-upon-Soar, Leicestershire, UK (Cruickshank, 1994a, 1994b); NMING F10194, a partial skeleton including the skull (but no mandible) from Street (Smith, 2007; Benson et al., 2012); NMING F8749, a partial skeleton including a damaged skull and suffering from pyrite decay, also from Barrow-upon-Soar (Smith, 2007). A complete skeleton from Wilmcote, Warwickshire, UK, sometimes referred to ‘P.’ megacephalus (WARMS G10875, Wright, 1860; Cruickshank, 1994a) represents a new species (Smith, 2007).

The type specimen (BRSMG Cb 2335) was a complete skeleton exposed in ventral view, but it was destroyed during the Blitz. Plaster casts of the skull and limb are housed in the Natural History Museum, London (NHMUK R1309/1310); the Geology Museum, Trinity College Dublin (TCD.47762a, TCD.47762b; Wyse Jackson, 2004) and in the British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham (BGS GSM 118410).