FOS­SIL CLUES

Australian Geographic - - Your Say -

I have just fin­ished read­ing AG 129 and would like to con­grat­u­late palaeon­tol­o­gist Dr Phil Bell on his re­fusal to give the di­nosaur ‘Light­ning Claw’ an of­fi­cial name. It amazes me that based on “a gi­ant claw...parts of the arm, hip and foot; pieces of ribs and a whole bunch of other frag­ments” palaeon­tol­o­gists are able to build up a pic­ture of the sleek an­i­mal your artist has given us. Noth­ing was men­tioned of jaw bones, yet this crea­ture “lacked the pow­er­ful jaws of other car­ni­vores”. Sorry, but how do we know that? Yet we have a beau­ti­ful di­nosaur, with jaws and colour­ing that are surely an artist’s con­cep­tion, hailed as Aus­tralia’s big­gest car­ni­vore. Palaeon­tol­o­gists have great imag­i­na­tions! But well done, Phil – hold back un­til more frag­ments come your way. DEREK WAT­SON, JINDABYNE, NSW

Dr Phil Bell, of the Univer­sity of New Eng­land, says: Re­con­struct­ing ex­tinct an­i­mals is not easy, but nor is it im­pos­si­ble. An ex­pert would not mis­take a snake ver­te­bra for that of a lizard, and they would also be able to re­con­struct that an­i­mal, based on one or two bones, with a rel­a­tive de­gree of cer­tainty based on what they know about com­plete skele­tons of its close rel­a­tives. The same is true for di­nosaurs. Thus, from a few scraps, Light­ning Claw can be iden­ti­fied as a car­niv­o­rous di­nosaur be­long­ing to the fam­ily Me­gara­p­tori­dae. More com­plete megara­p­torid skele­tons are known from South Amer­ica and we can use those to fill in the gaps. Ul­ti­mately, these are best-guess sce­nar­ios and the whole truth will only be known when a com­plete skele­ton of Light­ning Claw is found.

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