Brussels Collections


Brussels has provided the most taxonomically varied collection I’ve visited this trip. I was able to code a couple gators as well as my outgroup and some basal members of other clades.

Diplocynodon darwini

Diplocynodon darwini

For alligatoroids, they had several skulls and skeletons of Diplocynodon darwini, a species from the Messel Pit in Germany which I’ll be seeing more of in the fall. They also had a skeleton of Baryphracta deponiae, which may or may not be synonymous with Diplocynodon depending on who you ask. The skeletons were complete and in articulation. Too complete in some ways…I can’t look at the skeleton when it’s covered in osteoderms. And I can’t look at the palate or the lingual side of the jaws when they’re tightly articulated to the skull on a slab of rock. But they do make for gorgeous display pieces. There was also the holotype and paratypes of Allognathosuchus wourtesi, but people have been skeptical of this name for years and I agree. It’s some teeth and some jaw bits, but they look nothing like the teeth and jaw bits of Allognathosuchus in NA. It’s most likely some sort of Diplocynodon, but I don’t know if it’s its own thing or a junior synonym of something else. That’s something for the diplocynodontine specialists to figure out.




Bernissartia, with Iguanadons in the background

The outgroup in my phylogenetic analysis is Bernissartia, the sister taxon of last collection’s Koumpiodontosuchus. The frame the skeleton sits on is not exactly sturdy, but it doesn’t need to be because the skeleton spends almost all its time just sitting there. Whoever designed it did a fantastic job of making it modular, though, because it’s very easy to take off different parts of the skeleton, which I’m sure every croc researcher who passes this way is highly grateful for.

Maroccosuchus. I've never had to contort so much to examine a specimen in my life

Maroccosuchus, with a 5’5″ human for scale

There are two groups in analyses of Crocodylia which are kind of a pain: tomistomines and gavialoids. Molecular analyses tend to group them together inside Crocodyloidea. Morphological analyses tend to put Gavialoids at the base of Crocodylia. Which is separate from what you’d expect given the “longirostrine problem” wherein unrelated groups of very long-snouted crocs can get pulled together in morphological analyses because their snouts go through some of the same changes as they lengthen. I was able to look at two basal members of these groups: Maroccosuchus, a basal tomistomine, and Eosuchus, a basal gavialoid.




I also looked at “Crocodylusdepressifrons, which is a basal crocodyloid that needs its own genus name, but nobody’s bothered to rename it yet. I’m not sure if the croc specialists have other things on their plate right now or if there’s some taxonomic or phylogenetic uncertainty at the base of the crocodyloid tree that needs to be worked out before people go erecting new names.

Crocodylus depressifrons

Crocodylus depressifrons. This was part of an almost complete skeleton on display

There was also a “crocodylian sp” from the Messel. I don’t know if someone’s figured out what it is since the label was made. It’s one of those specimens with everything preserved but you can’t see anything helpful.

It's a cute little Crocodylian sp., though

It’s a cute little crocodylian sp., though

They also had Goniopholis simus, but it’s ouside my analysis, so I didn’t examine it. One of my labmates will likely be trekking here to look at it someday, though.

Working in the Brussels collections was a bit different. I’m pretty sure there’s a minotaur somewhere in this building ’cause holy crap is it labyrinthine. And don’t go through the wrong door and let it close behind you or you might be trapped on a stairwell that can’t be exited without either having an employee key card or setting of an alarm. Felipe (another croc researcher who was working here at the same time) and I figured that out the hard way when we tried to stop by our host’s office on the way out at the end of the day instead of calling her to come collect us.

Like French collections, specimens are brought to you here instead of you being let loose among the cabinets. We had a visitor room and a cart full of specimens to work on. But some specimens couldn’t be moved there—either because they were big and on display or too frail to move much. In those cases, a student who works at the museum was assigned to be our babysitter. Poor kids had to sit there and watch us look at dead things for hours on end.

Working here was also interesting for other reasons. Maroccosuchus couldn’t be flipped and was on the floor because no table was nearby and it’s frail. Which meant I was contorting every which way trying to look at characters. Sprawling out on the ground, flipping upside down, doing the car mechanic slide underneath its (as it turned out) practically nonexistent braincase and palate. *grumble* And out in the collections, I was climbing up a slippery slope to view specimens displayed in stadium-seating-style so all could be viewed by the public. I actually had to brace my ankles against the fossil stands below me to keep from slowly slipping downhill. Also, I may or may not have slid down the slope on my butt to get off of it…

The slippery slope of doom

The slippery slope of doom

There were about two days’ worth of work for me here, but because I left early on Monday (I was quite sleepy and my mind stopped working early that afternoon), I went in for half a day on Wednesday. It meant I didn’t get to do any sightseeing, but I’m honestly okay with that. Being in Brussels was driving me crazy and I just wanted to leave as soon as possible. It’s not that it’s a bad place, it’s just really not my cup of tea. And this headache I’ve developed isn’t helping.



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