December 20th

Box #20 in our count down is Attenborosaurus…

Days 1-5 of the count down.
Days 6-10 in the count down
Days 11-15 of the count down
Days 16-20 of the count down
Days 21-25 of the count down
Attenborosaurus, a plesiosaur discovered in a museum

Attenborosaurus: “Attenborough’s Lizard”

Attenborosaurus was a plesiosaur from early Jurassic England. At the time of its discovery, 1881, it was thought to be a species of Plesiosaurus. It wasn’t a complete skeleton, but the bones were very well preserved and even had skin impressions. They showed smooth skin with no noticeable scales.

Unfortunately the original specimen was destroyed during bombing in World War II, but not all was lost. Plaster casts had been made of the bones, and can still be studied with just as much detail as the original fossil. Only the skin impressions were truly lost, and one must be content with the written description of them.

It was upon studying this cast years later that paleontologist Robert T. Bakker determined it was different enough from Plesiosaurus to be its own genus. He named it after Sir David Attenborough, who is well known for narrating many BBC nature documentaries, as well as writing books and other presentations about the wonders of the natural world.

Sometimes the story of the fossil’s discovery and history can be just as dramatic and interesting as the story of the animal it preserves. Luckily we seem to have partial remains of two other Attenborosaurus, but many creatures are not so lucky, and are only known from pieces of a single individual. Why have so few fossils of certain animals been found?

Perhaps these are the remains of visitors that traveled from another area? The formations that are known are only small pockets in time and space, and there are vast areas full of life that were never fossilized or will never be discovered. Less than 1/10th of 1% of all species that have ever lived become fossils. With such a small chance of an animal becoming a fossil, and the even smaller chance of human beings finding those fossils, it is a great tragedy when they are destroyed.

This is why it is so important to document each fossil carefully with detailed pictures and casts when possible. Attenborosaurus is only one example of specimens destroyed, but still available for study thanks to the foresight of those who documented it. Spinosaurus is another very famous example, with beautifully detailed drawings and photos of the original bones that were destroyed during World War II.

Attenborosaurus is also an example of how discoveries can be made even in the dusty drawers of museums. You never know when you might find something new when you dust it off and take a closer look!

4 thoughts on “December 20th

  1. I thought you were going to do Cryptoclidus, but you made Attenborosaurus more interesting than ever, and I’m super glad we were able to find more good remains of the plesiosaur.
    Anyways, I want to cover a Mesozoic synapsid for my version, and I will be talking about Zambiasaurus, a dicynodont from the Middle Triassic of Zambia as you might have guessed. The creature was reconstructed with remains of what probably are juvenile specimens. Its fossils were first discovered in 1928 and 1935 in the upper Luangwa River valley; the site was later re-examined in 1960. This synapsid is thought to be herbivorous due to the lack of teeth and movement of its lower jaws appearing to be efficient in mastication. Its body gave it a muscular build but also made it a slow mover. It was held off the ground with either a sprawling stance or an upright stance.

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    1. Cryptoclidus gets some attention because of the Walking with Dinosaurs series (which is awesome), plus I wanted to showcase a plesiosaur with enough physical differences we can see them even in this simple style. 🙂

      Triassic critters are super cool 😀

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    1. Who knew a Jurassic World game could be educational? I actually quite like a lot of those games and apps, and I have one that goes through all Earth’s time periods. It’s not super accurate, but it inspires me to explore, and that’s the cool thing about games. 🙂

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