The Basal Sauropodomorph – Sarahsaurus

The other day, we were asked by a young dinosaur fan, that if she found a dinosaur could she name it “Sarahsaurus” after herself.  An interesting question, whereas there are certain rules that have to be followed when considering scientific nomenclature, technically there is nothing to stop a person describing an organism that is new to science in a way that commemorates them in some way.

However, in the case of this young girl and her ambition of being able to name a dinosaur after herself, the name Sarahsaurus has already been taken.  In the autumn of 2010, there was a paper published that described a basal Sauropodomorph from North America, this animal had already been assigned the genus name Sarahsaurus (Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis).

Known from a single specimen, excavated from Lower Jurassic strata in Arizona (Kayenta Formation), this dinosaur is believed to an ancestor of the Diplodocids and Macronaria that thrived in the Late Jurassic.  Measuring approximately 4 metres in length, Sarahsaurus was much smaller than later Sauropods and the fossil represents one of the most ancient (190 million years old) and most primitive long-necked dinosaur fossils discovered to date in North America.

An Illustration of Sarahsaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The diagram shows a man next to the Sarahsaurus sketch to give scale.  Sarahsaurus had strong hands with claws and powerful forearms.  Scientists have suggested that this dinosaur, although preferring a quadrupedal stance, could rear onto its hind legs if required.  Perhaps the hands and claws were used to break open termite nests.  By the early Jurassic, termites living in large, social colonies were becoming widespread and Sarahsaurus may have been an omnivore, supplementing its diet of plants with termites and other small animals.

Sarahsaurus was named to honour a patron and supporter of the university that led the excavation (Sarah Butler).  So for our young dinosaur fan, she will have to think up another name to use, should she be lucky enough to discover an organism that proves to be new to science.

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