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The Irritator

An annoying dinosaur

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Very little has inspired so many questions and so much wonder than dinosaur fossils. From evolution to fiction books, they have crawled, thundered, and stomped into most corners of our society - it will most likely take another mass extinction to remove them from those corners.

But not all discoveries are so wondrous and magnificent, some are downright irritating - as is the case with the unfortunately named:  Irritator challengeri or simply Irritator.

In the 1990s palaeontologist, Rupert Wild came across an interesting find on the fossil market. A well-preserved skull encased in plaster with only a fraction of the nose visible. His excitement grew when he realised the skull was possibly found in the Chapada do Araripe region, known for its Pterosaurs - a flying reptile species from the Cretaceous period (145-66 million years ago).

Eager at the prospect of such a rare discovery, he bought the fossil and sent it off to the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart in Germany. His colleagues, after examining the parts that were visible all agreed it must be some sort of Pterosaurs. However, others believed it was instead a large meat-eater.

The debate raged, but upon even closer examination of the exposed fossil, they discovered the skull was, in fact, faked. At least partly faked.

Whoever had dug up the skull had decided to add some embellishments to make it more appealing. Parts of the skull were glued together, others dipped in acid to make it look authentic, and even part of the nose had been completely faked.

The palaeontologists had a gruelling job ahead of them. They'd have to clean the now damaged (possibly ruined) skull. But something else was about to come to light.

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As they were cleaning the skull, they did some extra digging to find out exactly where the skull came from. Turns out, the skull had been illegally exported from Brazil.

According to sources, it was discovered in the Santana do Cariri in northeastern Brazil. Brazil at that time had a ban against fossil trade which came into effect in 1942. So the fossil was illegally acquired by Wild. Frustrated beyond belief the group worked tirelessly to fix the skull and finally figure out what type of dinosaur it really was. 

In 2002, six years after procuring the skull, they finally had an answer. It was a new species, part of the spinosaurid family. A large bi-pedal carnivore species which lightly resembles a crocodile. It had lived during the Early Cretaceous Period, about 110 million years ago.

But despite their joy at discovering a new species, they couldn't deny that the skull had created some serious problems. So they dubbed it Irritator - in memory of how damned annoying it was to discover. But because palaeontologists are not entirely heartless, they added a second name to the type; challengeri - after Professor Challenger from the book The Lost World.


Although the entire skeleton has yet to be found to date, scientists are able to make an educated guess as to how the dinosaur might have looked.

The Irritator might not stand next to T-Rex or Spinosaurs as the biggest bad-ass or most epic carnivore of the Mesozoic era. But it certainly is a memorable one in its own right - if not for the right reasons. 

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