The Nigersaurus became an internet viral meme sensation after the meme from Reddit, “don’t google the internet with what dinosaur has 500 teeth,” broke the internet. Often, a simple google auto-suggestion invokes some bizarre events that ignite interest in a particular matter or subject among the masses. The case of the Nigersaurus is also the same. This carnivorous dinosaur, which lived 115 million years ago in the Republic of Niger, a small country in West Africa, was nothing like the meme! So, what did this unique dinosaur look like during its prime time? And how was it discovered? Well, here we are offering a brief discussion on this famed “dinosaur with 500 teeth.”
Phillippe Taquet first mentioned Nigersaurus in a research paper in 1976. This French paleontologist first discovered the remains in 1965-1972 during an expedition in the Republic of Niger. But, since there was not a complete skeleton, the discovery often went unnoticed.
Paul Sereno, an American paleontologist from the Chicago University, conducted an expedition in 1999 in Elrahz Formation, Gadoyfaoua, in the Republic of Niger. He unearthed a complete skeleton of this carnivorous dinosaur. Sereno and his colleague Jeffrey A. Wilson again offered a description of Nigersaurus skull and feeding habits in 2007. He also presented a complete plastic model of the dinosaur’s head to the National Geographic Society in Washington.
In his online journal Sereno made an entry on September 9, 2000- “Nigersaurus, you might remember, we named for bones collected on the last expedition here three years ago. This sauropod (long-necked dinosaur) has an unusual skull containing 500 slender teeth. A major goal of this expedition is to find the rest of this unusual dinosaur so we can describe it and reconstruct it for everyone to see”
He also gave a detailed discussion on how the team discovered this unique dinosaur with 500 teeth. As per his description, “While walking across a very flat area, Gabe made a remarkable find—the bones of a new plant-eating dinosaur lay partially exposed at her feet. She brushed away the sand from the upper jaw. Nearby lay part of the backbone and the hip bones. This was a mean customer—the bones are from a skeleton that would measure about 30 feet long! We hope to find more evidence of this sharp-toothed creature as the field season goes on.”
Some other fossils related to this dinosaur with 500 teeth were also discovered in Brazil. But, a complete fossil is still to be unearthed. Hence, constructing a complete skeleton of the famed Nigersaurus was impossible. Nevertheless, paleontologists are trying their best to go into detailed research to find more about this particular animal of the ancient millennia.
Why the name?
Nigersaurus has become a topic for internet memes due to its peculiar name. But, if you look closely, the name is a scientific way of naming dinosaurs. This dinosaur has the scientific name Nigersaurus taqueti under the genus “Nigersaurus”, which means “Niger reptile” or a reptile from Niger(republic of niger).
The species name also pays homage to Phillippe Taqueti, who first mentioned this dinosaur.
Did it have 500 teeth?
Well, it did technically. Nigersaurus had a skull with 500 slender teeth. Nut, all of these teeth were not permanent. The total 500 teeth Nigersaurus had were composed of permanent and replacement teeth!
What did this dinosaur with 500 teeth look like?
In short, Nigersaurus is similar to the Sauropods. It used to have a smaller head with ticker hind legs and a tail like any other dinosaur. It was only 9 m tall with a femur of 1 m. As per paleontologists, they must have weighed 4 tons. Hence, a Nigersaurus may have had a modern elephant’s similar height and weight. Due to its body structure, it has a short neck with only thirteen cervical vertebrae.
Nigersaurus has four openings in its skull, called Fenestra, more significant than other dinosaurs with longer necks. But, the skull was strong enough to resist the shearing of the 500 teeth. It also had bony and elongated nostrils.
Their snouts were shorter. But, interestingly, Nigersaurus had shorter snouts. Their tooth row was not prognathous, and their snot tip was proportional to the tooth series. Another distinct feature of the Nigersaurus was that their elongated skull was gone with a marked depression in the cerebral section. Additionally, their maxillary tooth was also rotated with identical lower jaw rotation. This unique trait allowed their mouth to accommodate all the 500 teeth throughout their mouth.
Their teeth were ideally designed for their carnivorous attitude. The lower teeth were 20-30% smaller than the upper jaw teeth. Additionally, the teeth had curved tooth crowns and asymmetrical enamels (thicker on the outside). It allowed them to tear plants from ground level.
Paul Sereno described this dinosaur as an ancient crocodile. It had armor plates placed on its back for 1 foot. It has heavily pierced vertebral arches with thick interesting laminae between the pneumatic openings. The vertebrae of its tail did not come with any solid centra. Its pelvic and pectoral progle bones were only a few millimeters thick. Like any other sauropods or elongated dinosaurs, it also had robust limbs. The front lends may have been two-thirds of the hind legs, a distinct feature of diplodocus.
Classification of the dinosaur with 500 teeth
Touquet first included Nigersaurus in a dicraeosaurus. But, sereno reclassified it into the rebbachisaurid diplodocoid. As per him, it also had shorter necks, and this was a feature of rebbachisaurid diplodocoid.
Here is its scientific classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Clade: Dinosauria
- Clade: Saurischia
- Clade: Sauropodomorpha
- Clade: Sauropoda
- Superfamily: Diplodocoidea
- Family: Rebbachisauridae
- Subfamily: Rebecchi Suriname
- Genus: Nigersaurus
- Species: Nigersaurus taqueti
What did it eat?
Nigersaurus was first thought to be a herbivore. But, it is thought to be a herbivore like any other sauropod. It has minor parallel tooth scratches with pits. This often happens in herbivores which feed off ground-level flora like ferns, weeds, etc. Grass did not evolve during this period. Hence, this dinosaur with 500 teeth survived on horsetails, angiosperms, ferns, etc. But, they did not feed on cycads, aquatic vegetation, or conifers due to their stiff neck and height.
You can compare them with modern flamingoes. Nigersaurus may have used its teeth like a comb to filter out aquatic ferns and other plants during eating like these pink birds. But, as per Sereno, nigersaurus may have fed on short conifers and other ground-level plants as well.
Due to the lateral orientation of its teeth, it was not able to chew plants very well. This, in turn, caused fast decay of their teeth. Hence, they needed this massive amount of 500 teeth to ensure a new and functioning one replaced the bad teeth. Their teeth replacement rates are higher than any other herbivore dinosaurs!
Where did it live?
Nigersaurus lived in the Elhaz Formation of the Tegma group, located in Gadoufaoua in the Republic of Niger. This region has fluvial sandstones with low reliefs and occasional dunes with coarse-medium grains. But, this place was a floodplain during the mic-cretaceous period. The marshland offered it enough food from ground-level flora to sustain.
So, if you check out, Nigersaurus is a simple harmless dinosaur that probably lived 115 million years ago. Scientists need to discover more about this dinosaur to understand it in a better way!