The bizarre beaked beast

When I first saw this bad cast, I got a little excited as I thought it was the head of a dinosaur! We have one other cast of a dinosaur fossil in the museum, but that Iguanodon tooth is really bad. I was wrong, but I would find out that I wasn’t too far off.

A side on view of a pretty big turtle dinosaur creature.

A side on view of a pretty big turtle dinosaur creature.

There was a number scribbled on the back, so a little fumble through our old accession book revealed a long name scrawled in the most appalling handwriting. It seems that 100 years ago the curators thought it would be quite funny to write things down in their most untidiest handwriting with a little smirk on their face knowing that their future replacements would struggle immensely with deciphering their lopsided lettering.

Those funny jokers had no idea that a century later a wonderful research aide, known as Google, would be around. Touché mes amis.

After a couple of attempts of searches, due to several mis-spellings firing blanks, I found the creature. The skull belonged to a rhynchosaur called Hyperodapedon gordoni.

Rhynchosaurs were a group of beaked reptiles that were closely related to crocodiles and dinosaurs. Unfortunately these were not around for as long as their 2nd cousins, and they became extinct around 230 million years ago.

The group was quite successful on their short time on Earth of around 20 million years or so. They were pretty big plant eaters (herbivores), and some could grow as long as two cars. The skull of some species, including Hyperodapedon, holds fairly varied teeth for a reptile, which is presumably why this cast was purchased: the front two teeth on the top and bottom jaws are pretty big, and curved to create a ‘beak’ at the front of the mouth, and the back ones were more flat. This was perfect for eating tough plant material – the front ‘beak’ would slice and the back teeth would grind it down.

The wonderful Hyperodapedon reptile. It was awesome and long, and could eat plants. It couldn't scale down vertical surfaces.

The wonderful Hyperodapedon reptile. It was awesome and long, and could eat plants. (Contrary to this illustration, it couldn’t scale down vertical surfaces.)

Hyperodapedon gordoni was a pretty cool plant eating reptile and it is likely that they grazed in herds of hundreds of individuals. The large two holes at the back of the head shows it’s relationship to the archosaurs (the group that includes the crocodiles and dinosaurs). These two holes are found in the skulls of animals from this groups, and a few others (including tuataras, lizards, snakes and the avian dinosaurs around today – the birds). The overarching group that holds all of these creatures with two extra holes in their heads is called the Diapsids.

View from the top. The two holes close to the front are for the eyes. The two big holes near the back are for something else.

View from the top. The two holes close to the front are for the eyes. The two big holes near the back are for something else.

In Hyperodapedon these two holes would have attached big muscles from the head, and allowed the jaw to open pretty big. This would have been very useful for slicing effortlessly through the tough vegetation it relied on.

This isn’t the greatest cast ever made. But, to my sheer delight, I have found another museum that has a similar cast and is actually worse! If you have seen some of the other posts on bad casts, you know that we have some pretty bad plaster casts of fossils. You can also imagine how I grinned from ear to ear when I saw this beauty on another museum’s website!

This cast from the Grant Museum and is most definitely a bad cast, a worst cast than mine! My victory, and smugness, is short lived. I have just realised that although their cast is pretty awful, they are actually using it. Something I am not doing.

This example from the wonderful Grant Museum of Zoology, is a lovely way of how we can use our bad casts. Perhaps we should not be ashamed of them and hide them away. Let’s be proud! Lets get them out!

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1 Comment

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One response to “The bizarre beaked beast

  1. Pingback: The croc in the rock | FromShanklin

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