On With Their Heads

Hey there every peoples!

Finals are now out of the way and so my busy period is almost over. After that, I’ll be able to do a couple posts I’ve been meaning to put up for a long time. So this week sees another creature feature about an animal you may have heard of.

That animal’s name is Abydosaurus. You probably know him from a flurry of news reports back in March. Abydosaurus is just another of the new dinosaurs coming out of Utah’s cretaceous rocks, in this case the Cedar Mountain Formation. Interestingly, Abydosaurus was found in an outcrop at Dinosaur National Monument near the old visitor center. With any luck, he’ll show up in the new visitor center!

Reconstruction of the early Cretaceous brachiosaurid Abydosaurus

Why? Because Abydosaurus stands out among sauropods. Not because it’s a new species (those pop up all the time), not because of its size (it’s only 25 feet long, though the individuals recovered are juveniles), and it’s not because of its time or relationships (early cretaceous brachiosaurid. I love brachiosaurids!). What makes Abydosaurus unique is that the quarry where the 4 individuals were found yield a complete skull. What is more, it also produced the remains of 3 additional skulls! This is unheard of in sauropods. Their skulls are so small and delicate that they mostly don’t survive fossilization. Paleontologists are ecstatic when they find a sauropod skull. To find 4 is simply unheard of.

The most complete of the four Abydosaurus skulls

This gives us an unprecedented look into the biology of this animal. Skulls are the part of the body that reveals the most about an animal: what it ate, how strong its senses were, the structure of its brain, balance, and possibly even mating habits. And because skulls carry such a suite of features they are very important in classifying animals. The skulls of Abydosaurus upfront showed that it was a brachiosaurid, a group of sauropods who resembled reptilian giraffes. The skulls showed that this animal had wider teeth than other brachiosaurids. The skull is very similar to Africa’s Giraffatitan even though the Abydosaurus , with its age of 104 mya, lived 45 million years after the famous Jurassic giant (who was once known as Brachiosaurus brancai).

The name of Abydosaurus stems from an uncommon source of animals names: Egyptian mythology. I used to be a nut on Egypt back when we studied it in 6th grade. Abydos is the Greek name of a temple that rests on the Nile. According to Egyptian mythology, Abydos is the resting place of the head and neck of Osiris, the lord of the Egyptian Underworld. Seeing as the holoytpe of Abydosaurus consisted of the head and upper neck, and the site overlooked the Green River, the named seemed to apply. In my opinion, an extinct animal needs to be named (whether it’s a nickname or a scientific name) after a mythological figure with one of the coolest names out there: the Greek hero Belerophon.

Till next time!