Plateosaurus (Broad lizard)
Plateosaurus (Broad lizard)
Named By : Christian Erich Hermann von Meyer - 1837
Diet : Herbivore
Size : Estimated 5 – 10 meters long
Type of Dinosaur : Sauropod
Type Species : P. engelhardti (type), P. gracilis
Found in : France, Germany, Switzerland
When it Lived : Late Triassic, 210 million years ago
Plateosaurus, which probably means “broad-lizard”, but is often mistranslated to mean “flat lizard”, is a genus that includes a variety of dinosaurs. It lived in the Late Triassic period (around 214 to 204 millions years ago) in what is now Central, Northern Europe, Greenland, North America. Plateosaurus, also known as “prosauropod”, is an early sauropodomorph dinosaur that was basal. The ICZN has replaced P. engelhardti, the type species, with P. trossingensis in 2019, as the latter was not diagnostic. There are currently three valid species: P. trossingensis; P. longiceps and P. gracis. Others have been assigned, however, and there is not a consensus on the taxonomy for plateosaurid dinosaur species. The genus level is also littered with synonyms (invalid duplicates).
Johann Friedrich Engelhardt discovered Plateosaurus in 1834. Hermann von Meyer described it three years later. It is still valid. It was described by Richard Owen in 1842. However, it wasn’t one of the three genera Owen used to name the group. This was because it was difficult to identify and poorly known at the time. It is now one of the most well-known dinosaurs. Over 100 skeletons have been discovered, some of which are almost complete. Its fossils were found in Swabia, Germany. This has earned it the nickname Schwabischer Lindwurm (Swabian-lindworm).
Plateosaurus was a bipedal herbivore. It had a small skull with a flexible neck and sharp, plump, plant-crushing teeth. It also had strong hind limbs and short, muscular arms. Plateosaurus grasped hands with large claws and three fingers. This could have been used for defense and food. Plateosaurus was unusually large for a dinosaur. Fully grown adults were between 4.8 to 10 meters (16 and 33 feet) in length and weighed 600 to 4,000 kilograms (1.300 to 8.800 lb). The animals lived between 12 and 20 years. However, it is unknown how long they lived.
Plateosaurus, despite its great fossil material and exceptional quality, was long misunderstood. While some researchers suggested theories that conflicted with the geological and paleontological evidence, they have since become the standard of public opinion. The taxonomy (relationships), the taphonomy, biomechanics (how the animals became embedded in fossilized), and palaeobiology of Plateosaurus have all been thoroughly re-studied, changing the understanding of the animal’s biology and posture.
Johann Friedrich Engelhardt, a physician, discovered vertebrae in 1834 at Heroldsberg, near Nuremberg. The type specimen was later identified by Hermann von Meyer, a German Palaeontologist. Over 100 Plateosaurus remains have been found at different locations in Europe since then.
Plateosaurus material has been identified at more than 50 locations in Germany, Switzerland (Frick), and France. Because they produced specimens in large numbers, and of exceptional quality, three localities are particularly important: Trossingen, Baden-Wurttemberg (Germany), and Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. In Saxony-Anhalt, excavations revealed 39 to 50 skeletons belonging to Plateosaurus. There were also teeth and a few bones from the theropod Liliensternus. Two skeletons and fragments of Proganochelys were also found. P. longiceps was given some of the plateosaur materials, which Otto Jaekel described in 1914. The majority of the material made it to Berlin’s Museum fur Naturkunde, where much was destroyed in World War II. Today, the Halberstadt quarry is covered by housing developments.
In the 20th century, the second German location with Plateosaurus find was Trossingen, in the Black Forest. This quarry was repeatedly worked on. Six field seasons of excavations led by Eberhard Fraas (1911-1912), Friedrich von Huene (1921-223), and Reinhold Seemann (1932), revealed 35 complete or partially completed skeletons of Plateosaurus. There were also fragmentary remains of about 70 additional individuals. Friedrich August von Quenstedt, a German Palaeontologist, had already given the Schwabischer Lindwurm (Swabian-lindworm or Swabian dragon) his nickname due to the large number of specimens taken from Swabia. Many of the Trossingen materials were destroyed by the 1944 bombing raid on the Naturaliensammlung, Stuttgart. This was the predecessor to the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart. Rainer Schoch, SMNS curator, found that the scientifically most valuable material, at least according to Seemann’s 1932 excavations, is still available in a 2011 study.
In Frick, Switzerland in 1976, the first Plateosaurus skeletons were discovered in a clay pit belonging to the Tonwerke Keller AG. Although the bones can be significantly deformed by taphonomic processes they are still comparable in completeness to Trossingen’s. However, Frick has skeletons of P. trossingensis.
Workers from the Snorre Oil Platform, which is located in the Lunde Formation at the northern end, discovered a fossil that they thought was plant material while drilling through sandstone to explore oil fields. The fossil-containing drill core was found 2,256m (7,402ft) below seafloor. Nicole Klein and Martin Sander, both palaeontologists at the University of Bonn analysed the bone structure and determined that the rock contained fibrous bone tissue from a Plateosaurus fragment. This makes it the first dinosaur to be found in Norway. The Fleming Fjord Formation in East Greenland also contains Plateosaurus material.
Plateosaurus Engelhardti’s type series included approximately 45 bone fragments, of which almost half have been lost. The Institute for Palaeontology at the University of Erlangen–Nuremberg in Germany holds the remaining material. Markus Moser, a German Palaeontologist, selected from these bones a partial sacrum (series fusion hip vertebrae) in 2003 to be his lectotype. Although the exact location of the type is unknown, Moser tried to infer it using previous publications as well as the preservation and colour of the bones. The material likely comes from the “Buchenbuhl”, approximately two kilometres (1 mi) south Heroldsberg.
The Staatliches Museum fur Naturkunde Stuttgart in Germany keeps the type specimen of Plateosaurus gracis. It is an incomplete postcranium.
The type specimen for Plateosaurus trossingensis, SMNS 132000 is kept in the same museum as P. gracilis. Its type locality, Trossingen in Baden-Wurttemberg’s Lowenstein Formation, is where it is found.
The Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin holds the type specimen of Plateosaurus longiceps, MB R.1937. It is found in Halberstadt in Saxony-Anhalt, and the Knollenmergel Member from the Trossingen Formation.