Rights: © Copyright. University of Waikato. All Rights Reserved. Published 2 September 2016 Download

Dr James Crampton takes you inside the National Paleontology Collection at GNS Science to see some of the dinosaur and marine reptile fossils found by Joan Wiffen at Mangahouanga Stream. He shows a mosasaur skull, plesiosaur paddle and skull, pterosaur wing bone and vertebrae from two dinosaurs.

Point of interest: The diagrams of dinosaurs within this video clip are a representation of what scientists believe these creatures might have looked like.


This one is a thing called a mosasaur and that’s a general group of organisms. Its proper name is Rikisaurus tehoensis. But mosasaurs were like a giant marine reptile. They actually had a forked tongue like a lizard – they were effectively a marine lizard – had four big paddles and a flattened tail that it used to swim with. It looks quite fearsome here. This is actually quite a small one as mosasaurs go. They were actually… some of the ones overseas were absolutely gigantic.

You can see this is the top of the skull, it’s upside down, and this is obviously the inside of the jaw, and these are the lower jaws that have been flopped over to one side so there’s the lower jaw. One of the amazing things about mosasaurs – and you can only just see it – they actually had a second row of teeth at the back of their throat, going down their throat. You can just see a bit of it here.

This is another fossil of a marine animal. This is actually one of the paddles of one of the long-necked marine reptiles. So the mosasaurs had a short neck – they were like a crocodile if you like – and this is one of the long-necked plesiosaurs. They again had four paddles and that’s all the bones of one of its paddles. They had quite small heads compared say to the mosasaur – in fact, the mosasaur would have probably quite happily eaten one of these things – but you can see it still had fairly savage teeth, I mean these things were predators of fish.

This is part of the ulna, so the wing bone of a pterosaur – one of the flying reptiles – so this was clearly quite a big flying reptile and these are the things that would’ve lived on the coastal cliffs presumably and flown out, glided out over the sea and caught fish and so on.

This is a vertebrae so one of the back bones of a thing called an ankylosaur. The ankylosaurs were the dinosaurs, four-legged herbivorous dinosaurs, but they had a big armoured back and some of them had the club on the tail that they would use to defend themselves.

This rather nondescript looking bone, this is actually part of a vertebrae of a thing called a titanosaur. Titanosaurs were herbivorous dinosaurs, they were like… they were a type of sauropod – the big-bodied long-necked ones that lived on land and ate vegetation. This, as I say, this is really not very well preserved. That’s because unlike say the mosasaur, this was a thing that lived on land so to get preserved in the marine sediments, this would’ve died on land somewhere, it would’ve been scavenged, there would’ve been things coming along and munching on it and then the bones eventually all broke apart, it got washed into a stream in a flood say, washed down the stream, washed all the way out to sea and then eventually would’ve sunk and got buried and fossilised.

It really doesn’t look terribly impressive, but it is – it’s an important bone. This titanosaur, these sauropods were the sort of things that would’ve made the footprints that we find fossilised in Nelson, in the Nelson area, so it’s quite an important fossil.

Dmitry Bogdanov Version 1.2 GNU Free Documentation License
Nobumichi Tamura Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 , Version 1.2 GNU Free Documentation License
Additional footage from GNS Science