(Dead) Taxon of The Week: Thecodontosaurus

Over here at TDS central (which is technically the MSc workroom in the Earth Sciences department, University of Bristol) we’ve come up with a way to give you guys a weekly introduction to all the lovely beasties palaeontologists around the world. To this end, Richard and I came up with #ToTW (Taxon of The Week), they may be a dead taxon (#dToTW) or even (if we’re feeling especially rebellious) a living taxon (#aToTW). Each week we’ll take it in turns to post a relatively short post on a different taxon, in an attempt to persuade you all that dinosaurs aren’t the be all and end all. However, in true TDS tradition, we’re going to completely ignore what we just said and talk about dinosaurs (let’s face it, dinosaurs bring all the hits to the yard).

This weeks ToTW is unfortunately a dToTW. But it is very dear to my (Ryan) heart. Back in my 2nd year of my undergraduate degree, this was the first actual dinosaur fossil I ever worked on. It was a huge day for me, I even took pictures of the bone I was working on and showed it to all my friends (they didn’t care). This dinosaur is Thecodontosaurus antiquus. The Bristol Dinosaur.


A vaguely accurate reconstruction of Theco (although no thought to be slightly more bipedal).

Discovered in Bristol all the way back in 1834, Thecodontosaurus (meaning ‘socket-tooth lizard’, eluding to the fact that the roots of the teeth were not fused with the jaw bone, like modern lizards) was the 5th dinosaur ever discovered. And even in 2013, 179 years later, Theco’s (a modern term of endearment, especially within the University of Bristol) still making news (more on that later). Standing at around 30 centimetres tall, and only around 1.2 metres long, a mighty tyrannosaur or colossal sauropod Theco is not. Yet Theco is with a very important dinosaurian group, the prosauropods. Prosauropods are the small Triassic (around 210 million years ago)  ancestors of sauropods, they allow us to investigate just how a group of dog-sized dinosaurs reached ridiculous sizes.

theco tooth

Socket tooth from the Socket-tooth ‘lizard’. Courtesy of the BDP and Andrew Cuff.

Much of the initial Thecodontosaurus findings were made in Bristol, and to this day research is carried out on Triassic fossils and Thecodontosaurus remains. The Bristol Dinosaur Project works mainly on microfossils, to painstakingly piece together the entire ecosystem that Theco may have lived in. The project is open to willing volunteers from both the scientific community, and the general public, it promises to reveal some much needed light on the Mid-Triassic of Bristol. Which by the way was quite a nice to live in (see below). More recently, all of the research on Theco has culminated in the Dinosaur Live Build, where Theco has been brought to live as a full scale (and as accurate has we can get the blighter) model, which got some nice news coverage (and was genuinely fantastic to see). Theco’s now housed above TDS Central (*coughs* Earth Sciences department, Wills Memorial Building). See below for my (edited and festive) picture of him/her (warning: it’s adorable). So here’s to Theco (and a shameless University of Bristol plug).


Bristol in the Triassic. We have to go back…

Since this is (possibly) the last post before Christmas, may Richard and I wish you a very Merry (gentlemanly) Christmas. 


Merry Christmas from Theco (and TDS!).