Research ArticlePALEONTOLOGY

The earliest herbivorous marine reptile and its remarkable jaw apparatus

Science Advances  06 May 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 5, e1501659
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501659

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Abstract

Newly discovered fossils of the Middle Triassic reptile Atopodentatus unicus call for a radical reassessment of its feeding behavior. The skull displays a pronounced hammerhead shape that was hitherto unknown. The long, straight anterior edges of both upper and lower jaws were lined with batteries of chisel-shaped teeth, whereas the remaining parts of the jaw rami supported densely packed needle-shaped teeth forming a mesh. The evidence indicates a novel feeding mechanism wherein the chisel-shaped teeth were used to scrape algae off the substrate, and the plant matter that was loosened was filtered from the water column through the more posteriorly positioned tooth mesh. This is the oldest record of herbivory within marine reptiles.

Keywords
  • paleontology
  • marine reptiles
  • Atopodentatus unicus
  • Middle Triassic

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