How Did The Marine Reptile Liopleurodon Get Its Name?

The Naming and Describing of Liopleurodon (Extinct Marine Reptile)

A school teacher was asked the other day by an enthusiastic, young dinosaur fan what the name of the large Jurassic, Pliosaur Liopleurodon means and how this fierce carnivore got to be named? Palaeontologists tend to get asked a lot of questions about this particular prehistoric animal, it remains extremely popular after it was “tagged” with the title of the biggest carnivore of all time. Liopleurodon was featured in one of the BBC’s “Walking with Dinosaurs” episodes (episode 3 – The Cruel Sea), the documentary claimed that this marine reptile was up to 25 metres long and would have weighed as much as 150 tonnes. These statistics, although impressive, are difficult to confirm using the existing fossil record, but for young fans of the TV series, Liopleurodon remains a real star.

Fierce Late Jurassic Predator

Liopleurodon was a fierce meat-eating, aquatic reptile of the Jurassic period. A number of species of Liopleurodon are now known, but the fossils of this animal are extremely rare and many of the examples scientists have are poorly preserved. It was very probably the apex predator in its environment and as a consequence; there would have been fewer individuals in any one area compared to other animals in the food chain. As a result, the fossils of such creatures are extremely rare. The best-known species (Liopleurodon ferox); was first named and described by the French palaeontologist H.E. Sauvage in 1873. The holotype of this animal, the specimen on which the original description of Liopleurodon ferox is based is actually a single tooth. The smooth sides of this tooth gave Liopleurodon its name. The name Liopleurodon means “smooth-sided tooth”. king snake for sale

Scientific Drawings of Marine Reptiles

The trend these days is to produce a scientific drawing which shows a Liopleurodon to scale with a human being, had this animal reached the lengths claimed by the BBC production team, the this prehistoric animal would have been a formidable predator.

Camouflage for a Large Ambush Predator

The colouration on the models of Liopleurodon that are available is very striking. We have advised a lot of people on the way in which this large predator may have looked but the colours depicted are pure speculation. Scientists do try to base their work on some scientific principles and evidence seen in extant creatures today. For example, study of Liopleurodon and other Pliosaur skull material indicates that the eyes were positioned towards the top of the skull. This would have helped Liopleurodon ambush its prey by attacking them from below, in much the same way as Great White sharks attack seals today. Many palaeontologists presume that this large animal, hid in the depths and then propelled itself upwards at a target animal such as an Ichthyosaur. The four powerful flippers provided fast acceleration and the strong jaws equipped with large teeth (some up to 18 inches long), were capable of delivering a very powerful bite.

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