This rather unassuming photo is included for all you cetophiles out there (or, should that be cetaceophiles? Whatever). These rather crappy fossils represent an assortment of odontocete fragments from the Red Crag deposits of Suffolk, England. I initially thought that I recognised the rostrum fragments (the bigger fossils over on the right) from Richard Owen’s 1870 Monograph of British Fossil Cetacea of the ‘Red Crag’, but I was mis-remembering, as the specimens described therein are housed in the Natural History Museum in London, not the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge (where this photo was taken).
Two of the specimens are labelled Choneziphius planirostris (Owen used the name Ziphius planus Owen, 1870 for that species, but it proved synonymous with Z. planirostris Cuvier, 1823, later given the genus Choneziphius Duvernoy, 1851)*. Choneziphius is a unique ziphiid (Ziphiidae = beaked whales) in which the mesorostral gutter is dorsally closed at its posterior end by the elevated lateral processes of the premaxillae. It seems to be closely related to Tusciziphius from the Pliocene of Italy and the extant, globally occurring taxon Ziphius (Muizon 1991, Lambert 2005). Numerous Choneziphius specimens are known from the Upper Miocene of Belgium and England and a second species, C. macrops (originally Proroziphius macrops Leidy, 1876), is known from South Carolina.
* If you have very good eyesight, you might be able to see that one of the specimens has been labelled Mesoplodon longirostris. I really don’t want to even start discussing the history and eventual fate of this name – anyone else have the time to do it? [non-fossil partial rostrum of the bizarre Mesoplodon layardii shown below, photographed at the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. A partial Narwhal Monodon monoceros skull is in front of it].
Worth noting here is that fossil ziphiid rostra have proved relatively abundant in Neogene fossil samples dredged from the bottoms of various sea floors; furthermore, these rostra evidence surprisingly high diversity for this group. Bianucci et al. (2007) described an assemblage of partial rostra and other skull remains dredged from the sea floor off South Africa, and reported an incredible eight new genera and ten new species in this one study alone (Microberardius africanus, Izikoziphius rossi, I. angustus, Khoikhoicetus agulhasis, Ihlengesi saldanhae, Africanacetus ceratopsis*, Nenga meganasalis, Pterocetus benguelae, Xhosacetus hendeysi and Mesoplodon slangkopi). Alas, so much more to say, but I must resist.
* The second recently named fossil odontocete that has a dinosaur-themed name ?
So, I only said things about ziphiid rostra – what are the other cetacean fossils you can see in the photo?
For previous Tet Zoo articles on ziphiids and other odontocetes, see…
- Santa Cruz’s duck-billed elephant monster
- Skull of the Moore’s Beach monster revealed!
- On identifying a dolphin skull
- Weird whales grand finale
- A Russian sea monster carcass is claimed to be that of an ancient ‘archaeocete’ whale
- The newest whales
Refs – –
Bianucci, G., Lambert, O., & Post, K. (2007). A high diversity in fossil beaked whales (Mammalia, Odontoceti, Ziphiidae) recovered by trawling from the sea floor off South Africa Geodiversitas, 29 (4), 561-618
Lambert, O. 2005. Systematics and phylogeny of the fossil beaked whales Ziphirostrum du Bus, 1868 and Choneziphius Duvernoy, 1851 (Mammalia, Cetacea, Odontoceti), from the Neogene of Antwerp (north of Belgium). Geodiversitas 27, 443-497.
Muizon, C. de 1991. A new Ziphiidae (Cetacea) from the Early Miocene of Washington Sate (USA) and phylogenetic analysis of the major groups of odontocetes. Bull. Mus. Natn. Nat., Paris (4e sér.) 12, 279-326.