In our 103rd episode, we had the pleasure of speaking with Dinosaur National Monument‘s paleontologist Dr. Daniel Chure and communications professional Thea Boodhoo, about their work on the Digital Quarry, the digitization of the Carnegie Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument.
Episode 103 is also about Saltasaurus, the first known sauropod to have skin armor (osteoderms).
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Saltasaurus
- Name means “lizard from Salta”, named for the Salta Province where it was found
- Titanosaur that lived in the Late Cretaceous in Argentina
- Excavated in 1975-77 by Jose Fernando Bonaparte, Martin Vince, and Juan C. Leal
- Described in 1980 by Jose Bonaparte and Jaime Powell
- Type species is Saltasaurus loricatus
- Species name means “protected by small armored plates”
- Holotype is a sacrum connected to two ilia
- Saltasaurus robustus and Saltasaurus australis were suggested species, but are now cosidered to be Neuquensaurus
- More than 200 fossils have been found, from at least 2 specimens, including teeth, vertebrae from the neck, back, hip, tail, parts of the shoulder and pelvis, and limb bones
- Because of Saltasaurus, paleontologists had to reconsider sauropods (had more defense than just being massive)
- First known sauropod to have osteoderms in its skin (since found in other titanosaurs)
- Had two types of osteoderms: large oval plates that were spiked and may have been in longitudinal rows along the back, and small rounded ossicles in between the plates (these had denser bone tissue than the plates)
- Armor probably protected it from predators, and they probably lived in herds, to protect juveniles
- In the 1920s Friedrich von Huene had found armor plates in the area and thought they were Loricosaurus (ankylosaurid), but now they’re considered to be Saltasaurus
- Rodolfo A. Coria and Luis M. Chiappe said they think the osteoderms didn’t start developing until after they hatched (based on the embryos found)
- In another formation, in Patagonia, Argentina, scientists have found a titanosaur nesting site, where several hundred of them dug holes with their back feet and laid clutches, about 25 eggs each, and buried their nests. Eggs were small, about 4-5 in (11-12 cm) in diameter, and had fossilized embryos with skin impressions showing bead-like scales, with a similar armor pattern to Saltasaurus
- Considered to be small for a sauropod, though it was still large
- About 42 ft (12.8 m) long and weighed 6.8 tons, though Powell estimatesd it to be about 20 ft (6 m) long and Gregory Paul estimated it to be about 29 ft (8.5 m) long and weighing 2.5 tons
- Had a short neck, stubby limbs
- Had short hands and feet and a wide belly
- Shaped like a hippo, so Powell thought it was aquatic
- Had spongy tail vertebrae (air-filled holes covered those bones, which helped make it lighter)
- Had cylindrical teeth
- Titanosaurs are a group of sauropods, very large herbivores, that lived during the last 30 million years of the Mesozoic Era. Some titanosaur species are the largest land-living animals discovered, but in many cases, scientists have found incomplete fossils
- The name Titanosaur came from the Titans of Ancient Greek mythology
- The family, Titanosauridae, was named after Titanosaurus, an incomplete fossil (only a partial femur and two incomplete caudal vertebrae) found by Richard Lydekker in 1877. Some scientists think there is not enough information for Titanosauridae to be a genus
- Titanosaurs were the last group of sauropods. They lived about 90 to 66 million years ago and were the dominant herbivores. They replaced other sauropods, like diplodocids and brachiosaurids
- Titanosaur fossils have been found on all continents, including Antarctica. The most titanosaurs lived in the southern continents, which was then part of the supercontinent Gondwana.
- Compared to other sauropods, Titanosaurs had small heads. Their heads were also wide, with large nostrils, and crests formed by nasal bones
- Fun fact: Despite having titan in its name, Giraffatitan is not a titanosaurid, but a brachiosaurid. The word “titan” is just used to mean “giant” making its name literally “giant giraffe.”
This episode was brought to you by:
The Royal Tyrrell Museum. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is located in southern Alberta, Canada. One of the top paleontological research institutes in the world, the entire museum is dedicated to the science of paleontology. It’s definitely a must see for every dinosaur enthusiast. More information can be found at tyrrellmuseum.com.
Permia. Permia is a prehistoric apparel and art brand, dedicated to creating collectible, scientifically accurate restorations of ancient life. Their creations are available now on their Kickstarter page or Permia.com.
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Dr. Daniel Chure and Thea Boodhoo: