The Bristol dinosaur
Thecodontosaurus antiquus, or ‘Theco’ to those that better know it, is commonly referred to as the Bristol dinosaur. As a palaeontologist (or at least a trainee one), Theco is special to me, being the first dinosaur I actually worked first-hand with, it was the first ‘real’ specimen I’d ever worked on. Anyway, less of the sentiment.
Relatively unknown to the public, an apex predator like Tyrannosaurus, or huge sauropod like Brachiosaurus (or is it, more on that later) it is not. At little over 2 metres in length, and only 30 centimetres in height, most remark that Thecodontosaurus would be ‘the perfect Triassic pet’.
Thecodontosaurus, meaning ‘socket-tooth lizard’, eludes to the fact that the roots of the teeth were not fused with the jaw bone (like todays lizards). Theco’s, are old in many ways, firstly in that they emerged in the mid-late Triassic, just as dinosaurs were on the verge of a diversity explosion, and global dispersion. Secondly, Theco was the 5th dinosaur ever discovered, placing its discovery shortly after such dinosaur giants (in a metaphorical, and scale sense) as Megalosaurus and Iguanodon.
Despite it’s small size, Thecodontosaurus may have lighted the evolutionary way to much, much bigger things to come. Theco is placed within the suborder Sauropodomorpha, and is thought to possibly be an ancestor to such giants as Diplodocus which would rule the plains of the Jurassic North Western USA, and eventually the earthshaking Argentinosaurus in the late Cretaceous.
Much of the initial Thecodontosaurus findings were made in Bristol, and to this day research is carried out on Triassic fossils and Thecodontosaurus remains. The Bristol Dinosaur Project works mainly on microfossils, to painstakingly piece together the entire ecosystem that Theco may have lived in. The Project is open to willing volunteers from both the scientific community, and the general public, it promises to reveal some much needed light on the mid-Triassic plains of Bristol.