May 6, 2016
The first sample of this 243-million-year-old hammerhead was unearthed in China in 2014, but onFriday, scientists announced the discovery of new fossils from the strange crocodile-sized, plant-eating reptile. According to National Geographic, the team believes the creature was extremely bizarre looking, and may have resembled something imagined by Dr. Seuss. The original skeleton, measuring about nine-feet in length, had a skull with a downward hook on its snout, and appeared to have a mouth filled with almost zipper-like teeth. However, the first skull was a bit misshapen, and this week, scientists were overjoyed to find fossils from the same creature that were much more intact, which helped them reexamine how, and what, the creature may have ingested.
The new Atopodentatus unicus fossil, whose name is Latin for “unique peculiar teeth,” though it sounds more like an incantation from Hogwarts, is now believed to have had a wide, hammer-headed jaw, with multiple peg-like teeth. They believe the bizarre looking creature may have have used its snout, wide mouth and front teeth to excavate the ocean floor in search of moss or algae, scraping it off the rocks underwater. This reptilian creature would then open its mouth and vacuum up the floating plant debris, filtering the vegetation through the densely packed teeth, like a whale filters baleen.
According to the BBC, investigators in Scotland, Beijing and Chicago scratched their heads for a few weeks, trying to figure out how the jaws fit together and the animal fed. Finally, they used a bit of modeling clay and toothpicks and built what they believe is a good representation. A paleontologist who was not involved in the study, suggests that it was ‘basically an underwater lawn mower. There is absolutely nothing like it alive today.” The team who unearthed the new fossils are continuing the dig, hoping to unearth more clues about this Triassic Toro.