Inside the Heads of Extinct Marine Reptiles – #365papers – 2018 – 12

Voeten, Reich, Araujo, and Scheyer, 2018, Synchrotron microtomography of a Nothosaurus marchicus skull informs on nothosaurian physiology and neurosensory adaptations in early Sauropterygia: PlosONE, v 13, e0188509

What’s it about?

This paper is about the use of syncrotron radiation to make images of the inside of the fossilized skull of a marine reptile. Using contrasts in density, the authors were able to distinguish between bones of the skull and originally empty places where the brain, nerves, and blood vessels would have gone.

Why does it matter?

Using tomography (the building of a three-dimensional model from hundreds of synchrotron scans in multiple directions), the authors were able to compare the shape of the braincase, and the pattern of nerves, to compare this nothosaur with other related vertebrates, whether extinct or still living.

Why did I read this?

One thing that interested me about this paper was that it was about nothosaurs. I am planning a complete week-long unit on marine reptiles that will include nothosaurs. I’m also interested in methods of studying fossils that are non-destructive and allow us to look inside fossils to examine parts that would otherwise be hidden. A third reason that I liked this paper is that it builds on the legacy of Tilly Edinger, a paleoneurologist who nearly 100 years ago first described the brain structure of nothosaurs.

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