Friday, March 9, 2012

Soft tissue preservation in a Platecarpus

This past week we were able to do a bit more work on a specimen that we collected last spring with a student group from the University of Tennessee-Martin. This small mosasaur, a Platecarpus planifrons RMDRC 11-001,  was just about the only recoverable mosasaur material seen on that trip. This specimen was discovered by a UT-Martin student, and the discovery, excavation and recovery process was recorded by a UT-Martin journalism student group.

How many people can you fit on one digsite?
The specimen was brought to the lab and awaited the UT-Martin student group to come to Colorado to prepare it. That chance came this week. The skull was weathering out first, and the roots of nearby plants had started growing around the bone making preparation a bit tricky. The students and film crew covered the preparation of the torso and neck, which was in much better condition. I was left to work out the skull.

Partially prepared torso, neck and head
We were paying special attention for anything that would tell a story about the animal. First we discovered gouges from shark bites on the lower jaw, then a shed sharks tooth at the left articular. While slowly preparing around the quadrate, we located the extracollumnellar cartilage, a semi rigid plate that often gets mistaken for a calcified tympanum. I waas shocked that this was still present with so much root infiltration. later while preparing between the pterygoids, small remnants of the tracheal rings were also discovered. I expected them there if present since they tend to get blown forward through the mouth after death, looking like a linguine dinner after a hard night of drinking. Unfortunately, no skin was present on this specimen, but as always, we'll be keeping an eye out

Can you spot the tracheal rings?

Tracheal rings in another specimen, this time a Clidastes

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