Pliosaur evidence discovered in Austria

As Liopleurodons belong to the Family of Pliosaurs, this finding could be of interest for you.

Tooth of a Pliosaur discovered in Austria, Photo by Lukeneder / NHMW

Ebensee. During a paleontological excavation in the Ebensee area, paleontologist Alexander Lukeneder of the Natural History Museum (NHM) Vienna discovered a fossil tooth that is now causing a scientific sensation.

“The one centimetre large dinosaur tooth is the proverbial needle in the haystack, in this case the tooth in the rock heap,” says NHM Wien scientist Alexander Lukeneder. The find is a Cretaceous first detection from the entire Alpine region and the only second evidence of pliosaurs from the hauterivium (a temporal stage of the lower Cretaceous period) worldwide.

As part of a paleontological excavation in 2018 between Traun and Attersee in the Langbath Zone (Northern Limestone Alps), the paleontologist discovered the tooth, which comes from rock layers deposited 132 million years ago in the lower Cretaceous period. An excavation of the NHM Vienna has been taking place at the site for years. “Whether the rarity and special form of the find was extremely complicated in the search for the “owner” of the tooth,” Lukeneder sums up. Together with his colleague Nikolay Zverkov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he was able to identify the tooth as that of a pliosaur.

The Pliosaurs belong to the group of fin lizards, the so-called Sauropterygia. Pliosaurs were marine reptiles from the Mesozoic, the Middle Ages. The name for this purely marine group comes from the Greek with pleion “more” and sauros “lizards”. This name should reflect the intermediate position of crocodiles and other marine dinosaurs after its discovery in the 19th century. They are considered to be the top predators of this time and were on the hunt for other sea-saurs, primal sharks and ammonites. The most famous representative of these marine reptiles is the Liopleurodon, which is up to 10 metres in size. “This group of pliosaurs carries 60-100 pointed, crocodile-like teeth in the mouth of a skull up to 2-3 meters long,” Explains Lukeneder. “Pliosaurs have a short neck, but a very long skull. In appearance, they are comparable to Mosausaurs from the Jurassic Word movies. “In the internal circle, the dinosaur is also called “Pliosaur austriacus”, i.e. Austrian Pliosaur. From a scientific point of view, he is a representative of thalassophonea, somewhat martially translating as the “murderer” of the seas,” says the scientist.

Modern methods of microtomography and scanning electron microscopy were used for research to accurately describe the fossil. Microtomography of the tooth was carried out by Gerhard Weber and Martin Dockner from the Vienna Micro-CT Lab at the University of Vienna. In doing so, one could look into the inside of the tooth, recognize the exact internal structures and thus extract additional secrets from it, such as a kind of “great caries” and the special wear of the tooth tip by eating primal sharks. The tooth will be on display in the exhibition of mesozoic hall 8 at the NHM Vienna from 2020.

This is a Translation of the article by Thomas Leitner. The german Version can be found here.

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