Bedtime Stories (Not Your Average…)

When you’re raising your kids to see the world beyond the latest expendable toy, trend, movie, and cookie cutter development, you just can’t expect them to read your average bedtime story. My oldest has been picking out library books on world religions, my middle girl has an insatiable dinosaur obsession, and my youngest loves anything with a sense of humor (he favors one particular book about a pint sized luchador named Niño who ultimately battles his worst nemesis, Las Hermanitas!).

My dino obsessor is five, but has already sought out her section of the library all on her own because she just can’t wait for my help (while I am usually chasing down her youngest sibling as he darts among the shelves, laughing maniacally, and turning oh so many heads). And she brings me stacks upon stacks of books on peculiar guys that I can’t even name off the top of my head.

She just figured out reading this past year and pores over the pages, sounding out those long, Latin names. Tonight we were reading a National Geographic publication on the Triassic period after the first known mass extinction (When Dinosaurs Dawned, Mammals Got Munched, and Pterosaurs Took Flight: A CARTOON PREHISTORY OF LIFE IN THE TRIASSIC, by Hannah Bonner) and encountered this crazy saurian, the Tanystropheus.

What the wha…? We were both amazed by how its neck was longer than its body. How could this be? The only info we gathered was that it was aquatic and probably surprise attacked its prey, so I was assigned the task of doing more research – mainly looking for its bones.

I’ve found a few interesting articles to explain the anatomy of the Tanystropheus neck and its theorized amphibious behavior. In this one ( written by an author who surprisingly lives in my original stomping grounds (who knew?), the writer states that based on his reading of peer-reviewed research done by paleontologists Silvio Renesto and Franco Saller, the saurian’s 13 neck vertebrae were very stiff on both horizontal and vertical planes which prevented it from swaying it’s head back and forth, or having much range of motion within its neck at all. It would have had to sneak up on its prey. But as the kids already know from trying to pick up floating particles in a bathtub (don’t ask), tiny objects tend to be pushed away on approach under water, so this may not have worked.

After reading this article I looked up while investigating a fossil similar to the Tanystropheus (Fossil suggests long neck made this reptile an effective predator by Greg Borzo, University of Chicago Chronicle), the Dinocephalosaurus may have had suction capabilities due to adaptations in its cervical ribcage (causing its esophagus to expand thus increasing the pull pressure within) – now we want to check out every fossil for cervical ribs! The article also gave my daughter an opportunity to see those fossilized bones.

So… my five year old and I have decided that “Tany” as we’re calling it, lurked in shallow water, poked its head around for prey, then suctioned the critters into the mouth of its tiny head. But the wonderful thing about science and nature is this is only a hypothesis, and we can still keep asking questions!

Update – after reading Brian Switek’s article on the Scientific American blog site, I discovered he is the author of several interesting books. I’m looking forward to adding this one to my summer reading list: My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the road with old bones, new science, and our favorite dinosaurs.”


Why the Long Neck? by Brian Switek

Evidences for a semi aquatic life style in the triassic diapsid reptile Tanystropheus by Silvio Renesto & Franco Saller

Fossil suggests long neck made this reptile an effective predator by Greg Borzo

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