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Dinosaur found in Sahara with a vacuum cleaner mouth

By Chris V. Thangham     Nov 15, 2007 in Science
A paleontologist discovers a new dinosaur with vacuum-like wide mouth parts that is designed to suck up food. A plant eater, it roamed more than 110 million years ago in the Sahara region.
Paul Sereno, a paleontologist from the University of Chicago in association with National Geography, discovered this plant eater with vacuum-like mouth part. He has named the dinosaur as Nigersaurus taqueti, acknowledging the African country Niger and a French paleontologist, Philippe Taquet. His team found the first bones of this dinosaur as early as the 1950s but didn’t name it or reconstructed its skull or skeletons until now, so Sereno wanted to honor their discovery.
The Nigersaurus’ mouth is shaped like the wide intake slot of a vacuum cleaner, but has hundreds of tiny, sharp teeth to grind up its food as it sucks up the food. The broad mouth contained more than 50 columns of teeth lined up tightly along the front edge of the jaw. Behind this tooth set, there were more teeth lined up as replacements when the main teeth breaks off.
Using CT scans, the researchers were able study the inside of the animal's skull where the orientation of canals in the organ that helps keep balance disclosed the habitual low pose of the head, they reported.
The 30-foot-long Nigersaurus stood as tall as the modern African elephant, had a feather light skull held close to the ground and grazed the plants like an ancient cow. Sereno compares this dinosaur with the North American dinosaur Diplodicus. It had also a backbone consisting mainly of more air than bone.
Jeffrey Wilson, assistant professor at the University of Michigan and an expedition team member, said without a backbone it is difficult to deal with daily stresses in the jungle, but Nigersaurus managed it well.
The dinosaur's anatomy and lifestyle will be detailed in the Nov. 21 issue of journal PLoS ONE, the online journal from the Public Library of Science, and in the December of National Geographic magazine.
The research was partly funded by National Geographic magazine. It will make a good exhibit at various museums.
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