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a plant-eating iguanodontid dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Belgium.
Pronunciation: i-GWAHN-o-don
Meaning: Iguana tooth
Author/s: Mantell (1825)
Synonyms: See below
First Discovery: Bernissart, Belgium
Chart Position: 2

Iguanodon bernissartensis[Boulenger, 1881]

Every once in a while a palaeontologist will reconstruct a dinosaur in the image of what they genuinely believe the creature looked like... and get it horribly wrong. For example; the first Iguanodon was put together like a giant four-legged Iguana with what turned out to be a huge thumb spike stuck on the end of its nose. Gideon Mantell also thought it sported some features in common with the extinct ground sloth Mylodon, had a long food-grasping tongue like a giraffe, and was almost 60 feet long, which would dwarf all known carnivorous theropods and many members of Sauropoda; a great lineage of plant-eating dinosaurs that gave rise to the biggest land-dwellers in Earth's history. Alas, Iguanodon was nowhere near that size. Nor are those the last of the misconceptions that shroud it.

Mantell was an English country doctor with a passion for fossils, but it was his spouse who put Cuckfield on the map when she discovered a strange tooth amongst a pile of roadside stones as she tagged along on a house call in 1922. Although a romantic notion, rumour has it Mary Ann never went "on call" with her husband, and Mantell -- PERHAPS wounded by the fact that his wife had deserted him and their children -- later claimed to have found the fossils himself. Regardless of who found them, the teeth were dismissed by the times' finest palaeontologists as belonging to a fish or rhinocero, but when Samuel Stutchbury of the Royal College of Surgeons noticed that the tooth, size notwithstanding, bore a striking similarity to those of modern Iguanas and William Conybeare talked Mantell out of Iguanosaurus in favour of Iguanodon in 1925, it became the second named dinosaur behind Richard Owen's Megalosaurus. Four years later, Iguanodon was honored as the first dinosaur to receive a full binomen when Friedrich Holl attached it to the epithet anglicum (amended to anglicus in 1850 by German naturalist Heinrich Georg Bronn), and along with Hylaeosaurus and Megalosaurus it formed the foundation on which Owen built his Dinosauria in 1842.

Over the course of the next 100 years, a mind boggling number of specimens were assigned as species to Iguanodon, to the point where all of your fingers and toes wouldn't be enough to count them. However, a cull began towards the end of the 19th century, starting with Iguanodon suessi and Iguanodon prestwichii that became Mochlodon and Cumnoria respectively, followed by Iguanodon exogyrarum (Procerosaurus) and Iguanodon albinus (Albisaurus) in 1905, and bits of a juvenile Iguanodon anglicus that became Valdosaurus in 1977. The trend continued into the next millennium. Gone are Iguanodon hoggi, dawsoni, fittoni, hollingtoniensis, mantelli, and atherfieldensis, spirited away to become Owenodon, Barilium, Hypselospinus, Huxleysaurus, Dollodon, and Mantellisaurus. Most importantly, however, gone is the name-bearer Iguanodon anglicus—the one that started it all—and what was once the quintessential English herbivorous dinosaur is now — along with the best bier, best chocolate, best detective and best tapestry — an export of the Kingdom of Belgium.

The remains of Mantell's original Iguanodon were lousy, truth be told, so in 1998 a petition was filed to the ICZN to transfer name-bearing rights to Iguanodon bernissartensis, which is what most Iguanodon research was based on any way. The request was approved in 2000, and so Iguanodon was attached to the beautifully preserved skeletons from a Bernissart coal pit. Iguanodon anglicus, in the meantime, was placed in its own genus, Therosaurus, which was coined in 1840 by Leopold Joseph Fitzinger, kind of. Strictly speaking, Fitzinger didn't actually rename Iguanodon anglicus. He renamed Iguanodon mantelli which was coined by Christian Erich Hermann von Meyer (who ignored Hol's work) for the very same tooth in 1832! Thus, Mantell's original Iguanodon is now attached to a pointless name that replaced a pointless name. Funnily enough, Friedrich von Huene named a genus of "mammal-like reptile" Therosaurus watsoni in 1925, so Therosaurus née Iguanodon would have had to be renamed again if von Huene's Therosaurus hadn't been sunk as a synonym of Ophiacodon retroversa by Romer and Price in 1940.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, paleontologists continued to smash what were previously species of Iguanodon into multiple genera, moving erroneously-assigned parts of already renamed species to new critters such as Delapparentia, Darwinsaurus, Mantellodon, and Kukufeldia. Asia got in on the act with their Iguanodon orientalis whose distinctive arched snout was renamed Altirhinus kurzanovi, and Iguanodon was also recorded from North America on the basis of two species; Utah's Iguanodon ottingeri and Iguanodon lakotaensis from South Dakota. However, the former has since been discredited as a nomen dubium and the latter is now called Dakotadon, which means Iguanodon bernissartensis (including remains that were once known as Iguanodon seelyi) is the only species of Iguanodon that is universally accepted as valid.

Iguanodon was a rustic chap; well made at around 5 tons in weight and over 12 meters in length. It has the swiss army hands; its thumb is adorned with a huge claw for self-defence, its pinky is supple and able to manipulate objects such as food, and the three digits in between are tightly grouped and hoof-ended for weight-bearing. It had a huge and robust, tall but narrow skull with teeth deeply inset from the outer margin of its jaws suggesting it could retain food with cheek-like structures as it chewed in a manner not dissimilar to cows, which was quite an advanced feature for its time. The front of its jaws lacked teeth but sported a series of bony nodes which probably anchored a keratinous "beak" for cropping vegetation, and it walked, primarily, on two legs but had no problems switching to four-leg drive.
(Iguana tooth from Bernissart)Etymology
Iguanodon is derived from the new Latin "Iguana" (from the Carib "iwana", a native name for what we know as Iguana) and the Latin "odon" (tooth). The species epithet, bernissartensis, means "from Bernissart" in Latin.
The first remains of Iguanodon (as Iguanodon anglicus before it was shunted to Therosaurus) were discovered at Tilgate Forest in Whitemans Green, Cuckfield, Sussex, England, by Gideon Mantell (or perhaps his wife) in 1822. However, the first remains of Iguanodon bernissartensis (the "new" Iguanodon yardstick) were discovered at a depth of 322m in a coal mine through the Saint Barbe Clays Formation (Upper Hainaut Group) at Bernissart, Belgium, by Jules Créteur and Alphonse Blanchard on 28th February 1878. Louis de Pauw began to excavate them on May 15th of the same year after encouragement from Alphonse Briart, supervisor of the nearby Morlanwelz mines.
Era: Mesozoic
Epoch: Early Cretaceous
Stage: Barremian
Age range: 130-125 mya
Est. max. length: 13 meters
Est. max. hip height: ?
Est. max. weight: 5 tons
Diet: Herbivore
Family Tree:
Iguanosaurus? (Ritgen, 1828)
Hikanodon? (Keferstein, 1834)
• Mantell GA (1825) "Notice on the Iguanodon, a newly discovered fossil reptile, from the sandstone of Tilgate forest, in Sussex". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 115: 179–186.
• Fritsch AJ (1905) "Synopsis der Saurier der böhm. Kreideformation" [Synopsis of the saurians of the Bohemian Cretaceous formation]. Sitzungsberichte der königlich-böhmischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, II Classe. 1905(8), 1-7.
• Norman DB (1980) "On the ornithischian dinosaur Iguanodon bernissartensis from the Lower Cretaceous of Bernissart (Belgium)". Memoires de l'Insitut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, mémoire No.178.
• Weishampel DB and White NM (2003) "The Dinosaur Papers (1676-1906)".
• Godefroit P (2012) "Bernissart Dinosaurs and Early Cretaceous Terrestrial Ecosystems".
• Verdú FJ, Royo-Torres R, Cobos A and Alcalá L (2015) "Perinates of a new species of Iguanodon (Ornithischia: Ornithopoda) from the lower Barremian of Galve (Teruel, Spain)". Cretaceous Research. 56: 250–264.
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To cite this page:
Atkinson, L. "IGUANODON :: from DinoChecker's dinosaur archive".
›. Web access: 22nd Feb 2018.