Friday, January 29, 2010


The first complete Italian dinosaur is a new-born one of a new species and genus – and perfectly conserved. Up until now no scientist had ever even seen the liver and intestines of a reptile that lived more than 110 million years ago.
The Neapolitans have already named it Ciro, but its scientific name is Scipionyx samniticus, a dwarf species only 50 centimetres in length that weighed no more than 500 grammes; perhaps a distant relative of the Velociraptor, it fed on small lizards and insects. In addition to the intestine and muscles in the chest and base of the tail, also conserved are the nails covering the bony claws. (...)
The dinosaur’s amazing conservation is due to rapid burial in marine sediments at the famous Pietraroja fossil deposit in Benevento Province, which sediments normally contain plentiful fish and marine invertebrates. And herein lies an important reason for interest in the tiny dinosaur, which changes the picture of the Mesozoic as relates to the central Mediterranean. Italy in the Cretaceous must no longer be thought of as just a vast expanse of ocean dotted by some rare coral atolls, but rather in terms of a more complex reality where emerged land must have been more extensive than previously believed. As just observed, where now the peninsula is found was once an ocean called Tetide where, as Leonardo wrote, “great schools of fish used to dart about”, marine molluscs such as ammonites roamed about, and corals and Rudistae built their islands just below the sea surface.
[...] Up to now, in Italy only few traces of dinosaurs have been found and the one discovered in Pietaroja is the first dinosaur with unique characteristics in the world. But the real exceptional aspect of this discovery of the century in vertebrate paleontology is that this is actually a young carnivorous “teropode”, belonging to a group of small-sized dinosaurs (such as the “velociraptor”) and it is the only dinosaur in the world with internal organs still in place. Indeed, the skeleton has been found fully intact except for part of the tail and the rear legs. The most interesting part of the animal is the ventral part where it is possible to observe the whole intestine passing behind the pelvic canal. This could be real useful in the field of dinosaur paleobiology because offers a lot more informations about “parenteral” studies. Since this was a young animal (two or three weeks old), with a rather short snout and a rather big eye-socket, we can suppose that the carnivorous dinosaur’s cubs were already able to hunt few days after birth. All this will enable us to get also many more informations on “parental care” (the attentions paid by parents to their children). This little dinosaur will also give us informations on other dinosaurs and will enable us to revisit italian mesozoic paleobiogeography suggesting that, 130 million years ago, Italy was covered by the ocean. The presence of land animals, like dinosaurs, would prove that dry lands were present much earlier.

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