|L. ferox skeleton, Museum of Paleontology, Tübingen|
Liopleurodon (//; meaning 'smooth-sided teeth') is a genus of large, carnivorous marine reptile belonging to the Pliosauroidea, a clade of short-necked plesiosaurs. The two species of Liopleurodon lived from the Callovian Stage of the Middle Jurassic to the Kimmeridgian stage of the Late Jurassic Period (c. 166 to 155 mya). It was the apex predator of the Middle to Late Jurassic seas that covered Europe. The largest species, L. ferox, is estimated to have grown up to 6.4 metres (21 ft) in length.
The name "Liopleurodon" (meaning "smooth-sided tooth") derives from Ancient Greek words: λεῖος leios, "smooth"; πλευρά pleurá, "side" or "rib"; and ὀδόν odṓn, "tooth".
Discovery and species
The genus name Liopleurodon was coined by Henri Émile Sauvage in 1873 on the basis of very poor remains consisting of three 7 cm (2¾ inch) teeth. One tooth, found near Boulogne-sur-Mer, France in layers dating from the Callovian, was named Liopleurodon ferox, another from Charly, France was named Liopleurodon grossouvrei, while a third discovered near Caen, France was originally described as Poikilopleuron bucklandi and ascribed by Sauvage to the species Liopleurodon bucklandi. Sauvage did not ascribe the genus to any particular group of reptiles in his descriptions.
Liopleurodon fossils have been found mainly in England and France. Fossil specimens that are contemporary (Callovian-Kimmeridgian) with those from England and France referrable to Liopleurodon are known from Germany.
Currently, there are two recognized species within Liopleurodon. From the Callovian-Kimmeridgian of England and France L. ferox is well known; while also from the Callovian-Kimmeridgian of England is the rarer L. pachydeirus, described by Seeley (1869) as a species of Pliosaurus (1869). Only L. ferox is known from more or less complete skeletons. Liopleurodon grossouvrei, although synonymized with Pliosaurus andrewsi by most authors, may be a distinct genus in its own right given differences from P. andrewsi and Liopleurodon type species.
Liopleurodon ferox first came to the public attention in 1999 when it was featured in an episode of the BBC television series Walking with Dinosaurs, which depicted it as an enormous 25 m (82 ft) long predator; this was based on very fragmentary remains, and considered to be an exaggeration for Liopleurodon, with the calculations of 20-metre specimens generally considered dubious.
Estimating the size of pliosaurs is difficult because not much is known of their postcranial anatomy. The palaeontologist L. B. Tarlo suggested that their total body length can be estimated from the length of their skull which he claimed was typically one-seventh of the former measurement, applying this ratio to L. ferox suggests that the largest known specimen was a little over 10 m (33 ft) while a more typical size range would be from 5 to 7 m (16 to 23 ft). The body mass has been estimated at 1 and 1.7 t (2,200 and 3,700 lb) for the lengths 4.8 and 7 m (16 and 23 ft) respectively.
However, additional Kronosaurus specimens and a skeleton of L. ferox, GPIT 1754/2, show that their skulls were actually about one-fifth of their total body length. One specimen, CAMSMJ.27424, has an estimated total length of 6.39 m (21.0 ft). The largest known skull, NHM R3536, at 1.26 m (4.1 ft) in condylobasal length (1.54 m (5.1 ft) in overall length).
Liopleurodon was one of the basal taxa from the Middle Jurassic. Differences between these taxa and their relatives from the Upper Jurassic include alveoli count, smaller skull and smaller body size.
Four strong paddle-like limbs suggest that Liopleurodon was a powerful swimmer. Its four-flipper mode of propulsion is characteristic of all plesiosaurs. A study involving a swimming robot has demonstrated that although this form of propulsion is not especially efficient, it provides very good acceleration - a desirable trait in an ambush predator. Studies of the skull have shown that it could probably scan the water with its nostrils to ascertain the source of certain smells.
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- Liopleurodon information and photos, The Plesiosaur Directory
- Article on the giant pliosaur skull once assigned to Liopleurodon, Tetrapod Zoology