Complex rostral neurovascular system in a giant pliosaur
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- Foffa, D., Sassoon, J., Cuff, A.R. et al. Naturwissenschaften (2014) 101: 453. doi:10.1007/s00114-014-1173-3
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Pliosaurs were a long-lived, ubiquitous group of Mesozoic marine predators attaining large body sizes (up to 12 m). Despite much being known about their ecology and behaviour, the mechanisms they adopted for prey detection have been poorly investigated and represent a mystery to date. Complex neurovascular systems in many vertebrate rostra have evolved for prey detection. However, information on the occurrence of such systems in fossil taxa is extremely limited because of poor preservation potential. The neurovascular complex from the snout of an exceptionally well-preserved pliosaur from the Kimmeridgian (Late Jurassic, c. 170 Myr ago) of Weymouth Bay (Dorset, UK) is described here for the first time. Using computed tomography (CT) scans, the extensive bifurcating neurovascular channels could be traced through the rostrum to both the teeth and the foramina on the dorsal and lateral surface of the snout. The structures on the surface of the skull and the high concentrations of peripheral rami suggest that this could be a sensory system, perhaps similar to crocodile pressure receptors or shark electroreceptors.