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Troubled life of the Nigersaurus

The first remains of the Nigersaurus being recovered in 1993
The first remains of the Nigersaurus being recovered in 1993  

BOSTON, Massachusetts -- The uneasy life of a 1,000-toothed dinosaur "lawnmower" -- and how it fell prey to giant crocodiles -- has been unveiled to scientists.

Nigersaurus had so many teeth it has been dubbed "the mesozoic lawnmower," but while it may may have looked like "a hammerhead shark with legs," even it had a match.

Dinosaur hunter Paul Sereno revealed to the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences annual meeting in Boston that the 14 metre (45ft) giant was big -- but easy prey to others.

In particular, how Nigersaurus proved no match for a 12 metre (40ft) long crocodile called Sarcosuchus, or supercroc.

Nigersaurus -- so named because it was discovered in Niger -- had the long neck of a Diplodocus and up to 1,000 teeth in its intricate jaws, Sereno, of the University of Chicago, said on Monday.

The bones of the 1,000-toothed "lawnmower" which scythed across west Africa were found first by a French researcher.

More remains were found in the same strata as those of the giant crocodile.

"I would not doubt for a minute that those two encountered each other, not favourably for the Nigersaurus," Sereno said.

"The crocodile would have been something to watch out for along the banks of the river. It may have been a fish eater when it was young, but when it grew up to 40ft long anything along the banks would have been fair game.

"Nigersaurus, a lightly built, delicate, wondrous plant eater, would have been easy prey."

Sereno has made several major dinosaur discoveries
Sereno has made several major dinosaur discoveries  

Sereno is credited with discovering the supercroc and his other discoveries in Africa alone have included a giant predator, Carcharodontosaurus, a rival to T rex; a swiftcarnivore, Deltadromeus; and an 18 metre (60ft) long plant eater, Jobaria.

He and colleagues had been piecing together the life of Nigersaurus.

Although it is known it roamed a meandering African river valley 100m years ago, its way of life is still a puzzle.

Nigersaurus may have grown to 14 metres and three metres (10ft) high at the hip.

"We are missing only a few bones of the skull, feet and the tip of the tail," he told the meeting.

"The teeth were narrow, needle shaped, not bigger than just a few millimetres in width and packed into an open groove in the jaw.

"There were stacks of eight or 10 teeth in line, erupting from a single point in the jaw: a huge number of small teeth, enamel covered, giving it more bite, because each small tooth has its own wrapping of enamel, and a lot more cutting surface.

"It looks like a hammerhead shark on legs. I have never seen anything like it.

"It is going to be a shocker when we eventually get this thing together. It has jaws that extend to each side of the skull. It is definitely designed to crop plants. When you look at it, you say: this is the mesozoic lawnmower."


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