In our 109th episode, we had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Eric Morschhauser, who got his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania under Peter Dodson. He’s an Assistant Professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania who has worked with early birds, theropods and recently basal neoceratopsians.
Episode 109 is also about Eustreptospondylus, a megalosaurid that lived in the Middle Jurassic in what is now England.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Eustreptospondylus
- Name means “true Streptospondylus” (Streptospondylus means “turned vertebra)
- Megalosaurid that lived in the Middle Jurassic in what is now England
- Fossil found in 1870, and at first was assigned to other genera
- In 1870 some workers found a theropod skeleton at Summertown Brick Pit, north of Oxford, England. James Parker, a local bookseller, acquired them and then showed them to John Phillips, an Oxford professor. Phillips described the fossils in 1871 but did not give them a name (at the time, it was the most complete skeleton of a large theropod found)
- Baron Franz Nopcsa reassigned the skeleton to Streptospondylus cuvieri in 1905-1906 (Richard Owen first described in 1842), based on it being related to the type species Streptospondylus altdorfensis (unfortunately S. altdorfensis was named based on very incomplete remains). Also Friedrich von Huene apparently sometimes called the specimen Streptospondylus cuvieri and other times Megalosaurus cuvieri
- Alick Donald Walker renamed it to a new genus in 1964: Eustreptospondylus oxoniensis
- Species name refers to Oxford
- Walker also named a second species, Eustreptospondylus divesensis in 1964, based on a French find. But in 1977 this was reclassified as the genus Piveteausaurus
- Eustreptospondylus is the most complete large theropod from Jurassic Europe (so far)
- Only one skeleton of Eustreptospondylus has been found so far
- In 2000, Oliver Rauhut found that there are only minor differences in the hip bones between Eustreptospondylus and Magnosaurus (another megalosaurid), and in 2003 he suggested they should be the same genus, so Eustreptospondylus would be Magnosaurus oxoniensis (not everyone agrees)
- In 2010, Gregory Paul suggested it was the same as Streptospondylus altdorfensis
- Rudyard Sadleir published a modern description of Eustreptospondylus in 2008
- Found on an island, and lived when Europe was mostly made of islands, so it may have been able to swim (not everyone agrees, and some think it was just swept out to sea when it died, instead of swimming to an island before it died)
- Holotype is of a pretty complete skeleton, and is probably a sub adult
- In 1924 the holotype was prepared and put on exhibit, in an erect position (this was changed to a more horizontal position in the early 2000s)
- Used to be thought to be a dwarf species, but in 2000 David Martill and Darren Naish pointed out that it was a subadult, not a dwarf species (island dwarfism)
- Eustreptospondylus fossil found was of a juvenile, and Gregory Paul estimated in 1988 that it was 15.2 ft (4.63 m) long and weighed about 481 lb (218 kg)
- Could potentially grow up to 29.5 ft (9 m) long
- Had large hind limbs and small forelimbs
- Had a pointed snout and large horizontal nostrils
- Had a thick skull, and tall, wide jaws (no teeth found, but based on the toothsockets it had an enlarged third tooth in its lower jaw)
- Carnivorous, bipedal, and had a slightly stiff tail
- Ate smaller dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and may have scavenged for fish, marine reptiles, and other dinosaurs
- Can see Eustreptospondylus in episode 3 of BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs (shows it swimming, also one is eaten by Liopleurodon while fishing, and then two of them eat a beached Liopleurodon)
- Also Eustreptospondylus is featured in the Primeval novel Fire and Water
- Huxley named the family Megalosauridae in 1869
- It was a “wastebasket” group, meaning it included a large variety of unrelated species (Dryptosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Indosaurus, Velociraptor)
- Lived in the mid to late Jurassic about 170-148 Ma
- Lived in Europe, North America, South America, and Africa
- Cousins of spinosauridae
- Thomas R. Holtz offered an alternate group definition as all dinosaurs more closely related to Megalosaurus than to Spinosaurus, Allosaurus, or modern birds
- They are primative theropods; small to large sized, with sharp teeth and had three claws on each hand
- Big predators are usually harder to find than prey, so not much is known about megalosaurs
- Fun fact: The deepest dinosaur fossil discovery is at 2,256 meters (~1.4 miles). It’s a portion of a Plateosaurus from Norway that was discovered while drilling for oil and was also apparently the first dinosaur found in Norway.
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For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Dr. Eric Morschhauser: