Friday, May 24, 2013

Megalocoelacanthus restoration in progress

As many of you know, here in the lab we have a thing for rare stuff out of the Niobrara chalk. We've found the only articulated skeleton of Protosphyraena, described the giant filter-feeder Bonnerichthys, we make a habit of collecting excellent cephalopod mouthparts like Spinaptychus and Rugaptychus, and even discovered the only open coiled ammonite out of the whole formation. So when it comes to new giant coelacanths out of Kansas, yeah we're on that too!

The second specimen (left) with a cast of the left lower jaw of the first specimen
The first specimen of Megalocoelacanthus from Kansas was prepared by our lab in 2005. It was given the name "mystery fish" since the bones looked nothing like what we usually work with. The bone quality was pretty nice, and comprised a nearly complete skull. It was eventually identified by Dr. Ken Carpenter (at the Denver Museum at the time) as a coelacanth, and the specimen went off to a repository.

Sculpting a body with the Vienna Latimeria specimen  blown up to size
While preparing and molding the specimen, I discovered a second specimen in 2007 much higher in the chalk consisting of a left lower jaw. As far as we know, these are the only two specimens of Megalocoelacanthus ever discovered in 150 years of paleontological prospecting in the entire Niobrara.

Side fiew of the unpainted and almost finished prototype
From past projects, it is obvious that we are the only people crazy enough to do 3d restorations of Kansas fish. We had disarticulated casts of the whole head of this giant coelacanth, so why not attempt a restoration?

No teeth, but it could nearly swallow me whole with that maw
Well, here's our first stab at it. In the future we're going to have to un-flatten the mandibles so they better fit the floor of the mouth. One thing is for sure though: it's still a strange fish even when all put together.

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