On the 14th of December 2020 new research was published in the Journal of the Linnean Society on the brain analysis of the Bristol Dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus antiquus. In this article I give an overview of the research from the palaeontologists at The University of Bristol.

Before I get into this article properly, I just want to share that Jurassic Finds had a fantastic year in 2020 generating 6,295 views in total that year which is amazing. The blog has passed over 16,700 views in total over the past three years, which is pretty incredible! Not many blogs actually make those sorts of numbers and I am so ‘Thankful’ to everyone globally who has taken the time to explore the blog. I hope that my palaeo articles especially have been able to inspire some aspiring palaeontologists to follow their passion!

In terms of this article I thought what better way to start 2021 off then to cover the mascot of The Bristol Dinosaur Project (who I have volunteered with in the past), covering new research from the University of Bristol on the sauropodomorph Thecodontosaurus antiquus (‘Theco’) for short. I have covered sauropodomorphs before on Jurassic Finds when I wrote about the discovery of Macrocollum itaquii back in 2018 and the early Jurassic dinosaur Mussaurus patagonicus in 2019.

What was Thecodontosaurus?

Thecodontosaurus name means (“socket-toothed lizard”) was a basal sauropodomorph that lived during the Late Triassic (the Rhaetian age) some 203-201 million years ago. This dinosaur is relatively small, being about a foot high and reaching a length of just over 6 feet. Thecodontosaurus has had an interesting history with its remains being discovered back in 1834 at the quarry of Durdham Down in Clifton, an area in Bristol I know fairly well. Theco was one of the first dinosaurs to be discovered and its fossilised remains have seen much research at the University of Bristol over the years courtesy of Bristol Museum. I was fortunate enough last year on my MSc Palaeobiology course to have the chance to see some of the Thecodontosaurus fossil material that Bristol University has available, which was really exciting to see!

Model of Thecodontosaurus antiquus at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Image Credit: James Ronan, 2018.

What was the research?

On the 14th December 2020 new research on Thecodontosaurus was published by PHD student Antonio Ballell and co-authors examining the brain case and inner ear of Theco (YPM 2192) through digital imaging and 3D modelling techniques. Many News and Science websites quickly picked up the research about the famous Bristol Dinosaur with SKY News, BBC News, Science News and many others sharing the important work that had been undertaken to understand this dinosaurs history.

The results showed that Thecodontosaurus was bipedal walking on two legs unlike its later relatives that were quadrupedal, where they walked on all fours. This was measured through the analysis of the floccular lobes at the back of Thecos brain. These lobes are large suggesting that this dinosaur was agile, that it was able to keep its eyes and head steady when moving. Possible evidence was found that this might have enabled Theco to be an omnivorous feeder occasionally as a result. The results of the study also suggest that this dinosaurs hearing frequency was acute compared to other sauropodomorph taxa, suggesting that the Thecodontosaurus species had some social complexity (Ballell et al., 2020). The research has enabled a greater insight into the evolution of sauropodomorph braincases and the palaeobiology of Thecodontosaurus.

Braincase and endocast of Thecodontosaurus through visual reconstruction. Image Credit: Antonio Ballell, 2020 via Sky News.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. I am aiming to continue to support Jurassic Finds over this year with more palaeo focused articles. Whilst you wait for the next blog article, please do explore the blog and give it a follow!

References

The braincase, brain and palaeobiology of the basal sauropodomorph dinosaur Thecodontosaurus antiquus’ by A. Ballell, J. L. King, J. M. Neenan, E. J. Rayfield and M. J. Benton in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. [Accessed 17th January 2021]

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