Saturday, September 3, 2011

Smok wawelski, giant Late Triassic Archosaur from Poland

The Wawel Dragon (in Polish ‘Smok Wawelski’) is a famous beast of the Polish folklore that was bringing havoc in the countryside near Krakow until a poor young cobbler’s apprentice saved the day by wittingly killing the monster and marrying the princess to live happily ever after.

This is the name chosen by the authors (G. Niedźwiedzki, T., Sulej, T., and J. Dzik) of a new article published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica for an enigmatic archosaur that once roamed Poland during the very Late Triassic period, some 200-205 MYA. The animal is known from a braincase, skull fragments, pelvic elements, limb fragments and a few other bits found in the Lipie Śląskie claypit, near the village of Lisowice. The exact affinities of the animal are unresolved at this time as Smok displays a mixture of characteristics that pertain to both theropod dinosaurs and to more ancient archosaur lineages such as the ornithosuchids and rauisuchians (think Postosuchus of WWD fame). Some tridactyl fossilized footprints found in the vicinity might belong to the beast and show that it was bipedal. One thing is certain though: Smok was a large predator, with an estimated length of some 5-6 meters, and to date is the largest late Triassic predator ever found in Central Europe. 

The authors of the study state that the paper that has just been accepted for publication is only an initial report and that a full phylogenetical placement of Smok is still a WIP, the subject on the on-going PhD thesis by the first author. So we will likely hear more on Smok wawelski in the near future. Whatever Smok was, it shows the existence of large bipedal carnivores in the Late Triassic that anticipates the future theropod dinosaurs of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Reconstruction here is based on the published skeletal. Osteoderms are hypothetical.

G. Niedźwiedzki, T. Sulej, and J. Dzik. 2011. A large predatory archosaur from the Late Triassic of Poland., in press.

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