Subscribe

Dusty dinosaur bone sheds new light on perplexing giant predators

A PhD student who stumbled across a forgotten dinosaur bone in a museum drawer has gleaned insight not only into the enigmatic Abelisaur, but also into a paleontological conundrum: Stromer's Riddle.

  • close
    Artist's impression of Abelisaur, with Alfred Hitchcock for scale.
    Davide Bonadonna/Courtesy of Imperial College
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

After discovering a discarded dinosaur bone in the dusty drawer of an Italian museum, researchers have published new insights into the predatory – yet surprisingly endearing – Abelisaur.

The study, published Monday in the journal Peer J, also wades into the murky waters of Stromer’s Riddle, formulated in the 1930s by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer, which asks how so many different top dinosaur predators could have coexisted.

The work also highlights one of the understated services provided by museums: sheltering a treasure trove of potential discoveries, just waiting for the right person to come along.

“I simply stumbled upon a drawer with some specimens,” says coauthor Alfio Chiarenza, a PhD student in paleontology at Imperial College London, in a telephone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “This femur called my attention because I recognized dinosaur features – especially carnivorous dinosaur features.”

Mr. Chiarenza was at the Museum of Geology and Paleontology in Palermo, Italy, delivering an invited talk at a paleontology conference.

The museum curators were “enthusiastic collaborators, having heard my presentation that morning,” Chiarenza says, allowing him and his colleague Andrea Cau of the University of Bologna to investigate the bone in question.

“This find confirms that at that time, in Africa, there was something particularly favorable for the existence of giant predatory dinosaurs,” Mr. Cau tells the Monitor in an email interview. “There is nothing comparable in modern world.”

Femurs can be particularly helpful in determining a dinosaur's size, and even fragmentary bones can hold a rich tapestry of information, says Chiarenza.

Using this forgotten bone, the researchers calculated that this animal was one of the largest Abelisaurs ever found. Moreover, while paleontologists already knew that Abelisaurs had existed in North Africa, they had never before found evidence that they had grown so large in this region.

This particular bone originated from the Kem Kem Beds in Morocco, an area shrouded in the mysteries of Stromer’s Riddle, with bones of myriad giant predatory dinosaurs all heaped together, suggesting they roamed the region at the same time.

One theory attempts to erase the paradox by blaming geological processes for jumbling up the fossils, but Cau and Chiarenza offer a different take.

“We reviewed the literature on dinosaur assemblages in North Africa and drew the conclusion that they may well have been confined to different environments,” says Chiarenza. “So, Abelisaur probably lived further inland, while others lived in more coastal habitats, or alongside rivers and lakes.”

Recent research into the Spinosaur, for example, “the one with the big sail and the long snout,” as Chiarenza describes it, suggests it was somewhat aquatic or amphibious.

When asked what has most endeared them to Abelisaur, both researchers mentioned the minuscule forelimbs, far smaller even than T. rex’s puny appendages.

“Evidently, their arms were not a necessary organ for their mode of life, more or less as a long tail is not particularly important for the human lifestyle,” says Cau.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK