Snakes are iconic predators that have evolved unusual ways of subduing their prey. Some snakes constrict their prey before swallowing it whole, whereas others use highly toxic venoms to disable their unfortunate victims first. This second strategy is associated with some sophisticated dental anatomy in snakes: some of their teeth are grooved, or even hollow, … Continue reading Snakebites: folded dentine and a new hypothesis for the evolution of venom fangs
Silesaurids are a mysterious group of Triassic reptiles. Depending on which hypothesis you favour, these small, quadrupedal, long-necked archosaurs were either the closest relatives of all dinosaurs or were the earliest members of one of the two major dinosaur groups: the Ornithischia. Figuring out their exact placement on the reptile family tree is crucial, because … Continue reading Why studying silesaurid tooth tissues is so important
The more I study teeth, the more I realize that the words we use in our field matter. Scientists like to categorize things and invent new words to communicate ideas to their colleagues, but we have to choose them carefully. Even though scientists pride themselves on being precise and objective, sometimes a word can carry different … Continue reading What does Thecodonty mean?
We normally think of theropod dinosaurs as the most iconic ziphodont (serrated blade-shaped teeth) carnivores, but as the playground saying goes: anything YOU can do I can do better. Our recent study, of an even more ancient group of animals puts a surprising twist on the tale of the evolution of ziphodont teeth. Gorgonopsians were … Continue reading Building a better blade: ancient mammal relatives with dinosaur-like slicing teeth
When it comes to teeth, mammals reign supreme. Their teeth come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes that you just don’t find in other vertebrates. But one of their most distinctive features lies hidden below the gumline and it’s often overlooked in discussions of dental evolution: the tooth attachment system, or periodontium. Unlike … Continue reading Where does the mammal tooth attachment system come from?
These standalone plates of bone have a variety of names. Some people call them interdental plates when they form a wall of bone on the inner (tongue-side) margin of the jaws. Others call them interdental ridges when they form partitions between neighbouring teeth. Mammals supposedly don’t have them. But the presence or absence of these … Continue reading What are interdental plates/ridges?
This week, our collaborative study on the teeth of a strange reptile from the Late Cretaceous of Argentina hits virtual stands. As part of a growing research collaboration between Canadian and Argentinian palaeontologists, this new paper published in Current Biology introduces the world to the teeth of Priosphenodon, one of the strangest herbivores I’ve ever … Continue reading Reptiles doing what mammals do best: the unusual teeth of an extinct sphenodontian
Back in the summer of 2019, I was involved in a field expedition to Southern Italy in search of fossil marine lizards. The fieldwork was led by my postdoctoral advisor, Professor Michael Caldwell, and my colleague Dr. Ilaria Paparella along the heal of Italy’s boot, the region called Puglia. Why did we pick this scenic … Continue reading Hunting for the sea monsters of southern Italy
If you look at a cross-section through a typical mammalian tooth root, it forms a doughnut in thin section. That’s because our roots are essentially long cylinders of hardened tooth tissues that surround a central pulp. But there are animals out there that don’t follow this rule. In fact many extinct and living fish, amphibians, … Continue reading Dental origami: the elegant shapes of “folded” dentine
“…we shall have to treat species in the same manner as those naturalists treat genera, who admit that genera are merely artificial combinations made for convenience.” Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species When I first read Origin of Species, I was struck by Charles Darwin’s prophetic view of what biology would look like in … Continue reading Identity Crisis: the Curious Case of Captorhinus