Friday, October 26, 2007

Diplocaulus, aka "Boomerang Head"

The weirdest species the team has found in the Red Beds is the “Boomerang Head,” or, as it's officially known, the species Diplocaulus, meaning "two tailed," a reference to its double-spined tail bones.

It has an extrememly odd-looking body, with a flattened body and legs. The head, however, is pulled out to the sides in the shape of a boomerang - so extremely that by adulthood, the head could be 4 to 6 times wider than it was long. It was armor plated as well, with extremely strong jaws.

Some scientists contend that this shape may have helped Diplocaulus glide through the water - but the flattened lower body could not have contained the muscles of a strong swimmer. It's much more likely that this was an ambush predator, who waited unseen on the bottom of a murky river until unwary prey came along.

It's also possible that the skull served as a defensive mechanism - in which Diplocaulus may have used the points of its head as sideways horns to punch with - or as an aid for mating. Since Diplocaulus' eyes were on the top of its head, finding and impressing a mate by sight would be near impossible. So, a larger skull makes a love connection much more likely.

In any case, it's hard to imagine a predator - even the mighty Dimetrodon - swallowing this easily.

(c) Robert T. Bakker

After Dimetrodon, Diplocaulus fossils are the next most common find at the team's site. They've found pieces of skull - which has a unique shiny, pitted surface that feels very much like it came from a living thing - everywhere they look. They've also found leg fossils and pieces of backbone that show how incredibly strong this species was - perhaps the strongest example of sideways locomotion that's ever evolved.

A piece of Diplocaulus skull discovered at the HMNS site.


*sHELby MaRTIN* said...

Wow! This is pretty cool. It must be pretty hard to find such small things!

Whitney said...

Whats the most you have found of a dinasoar at one time?

Houston Museum of Natural Science said...

Hi Whitney,

Here's your answer, from Dr. Bakker:

"The most I've found is the whole dang thing. Found a species called Drinker in a burrow in Wyoming. A little guy, about the size of a turkey, buried nose to tail in his own burrow."

Thanks for your question!


Paleocarl said...

I guided the RAS to a site in Kansas,and found a new species of Diplocaulus. It was presented a few years at SVP ago by Yuri Gubin. I recently found a pic online that appears to be a living Diplocaulus in a bucket. Would you like to see the pic? Let me know an email address I can post it to. thanks, Paleocarl

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