Nigersaurus – The Mesozoic Lawn Mower
The diversity of the dinosaur families (in the taxonomic sense) is now becoming better established and understood with the increasing number of fossil discoveries from around the world. The break up of the super-continent Pangaea led to the separation and isolation of a number of different types of dinosaur and this provided the catalyst to permit increased diversity. The dinosaurs were quick to exploit a whole range of environmental niches, this is well illustrated by examining the immense diversity in a dinosaur Sub-Order such as the Sauropodomorpha, the long-necked herbivores with lizard-like feet. Members of the Sauropodomorpha include some very famous and well-known dinosaurs, creatures such as Diplodocus, Camarasaurus and the huge Apatosaurus.
One of the more unusual members of the Sauropodomorpha was Nigersaurus (Nigersaurus taqueti), pronounced nee-zehr-sore-us. This Sauropod seems to have specialised in feeding on low growing vegetation such as ferns, horsetails and since the fossils of this animal are dated to the Aptian/Albian faunal stages (112-110 million years ago), it may have eaten flowering plants. Indeed, this broad muzzled, 9 metre long dinosaur may have specialised in cropping small plants, close to the ground and so may have been one of the first animals to adapt to eating the earliest Angiosperms (flowering plants).
An Illustration of the Bizarre Sauropod Nigersaurus
Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur
To view a 1:20 scale model of Nigersaurus: Dinosaur Models and Dinosaur Toys
This dinosaur was formerly named and described in 1999 and the species name honours the famous French palaeontologist Philippe Taquet who first led expeditions to Niger in search of vertebrate fossils.
The structure of the skull and neck bones indicate that Nigersaurus may have held its head close to the ground. Some of the bones of this dinosaur are extremely delicate, some skull bones are wafer thin and the vertebrae contain a number of air sacs (pleurocoels) to help lighten them.
It is intriguing to speculate that in order to avoid competition with other Sauropods that shared its habitat, Nigersaurus may have adapted to a grazing type of feeding behaviour. This dinosaur may have specialised in eating ground dwelling, low growing plants. The long neck would have enabled this dinosaur to graze over a large area without having to move its bulky body very far. This is an extremely efficient form of feeding, one advantage the Sauropods had over smaller, herbivorous dinosaurs such as the Ornithopods. The Sauropodomorpha survived until the very end of the dinosaurs with giant Titanosaurs such as the North American Alamosaurus finally becoming extinct at the end of the Cretaceous.