What is Diplocaulus?

Diplocaulus is an amphibian-like animal from the Permian (300-251 mya) known for its distinctly boomerang-shaped skull. This 3-foot long salamander-shaped animal lurked in freshwater ponds, but figuring out what its head was so strangely shaped for took a lot of investigative work.

Diplocaulus skeleton and model from the Denver Museum of Natural History. Available under CC BY SA 4.0 from user Camelops.

Figure of Diplocaulus skeleton and statue from the Denver Museum of Natural History

Scientists, ever the creative thinkers, have had a lot of different ideas for what this big ol' head could have been for.

Was it meant to dig up small crustaceans? Not likely - their jaws and teeth suggested they were eating fish.

What about us as like, a grappling hook, to help them keep from getting washed away in streams? Though an interesting mental image, this probably isn't realistic either - after all, they're found in the type of rocks deposited by slow-moving pond water, not streams.

Most recently, scientists have found that the skull could have acted very much like a hydrofoil - both wind tunnel tests and hydrodynamics research show that the head could have forced water over the body in such a way that it reduced drag and let this salamander-like animal lunge at prey swiftly and smoothly under water - a useful technique for catching fish.

The repeating print I've made Diplocaulus into is fairly simple - it's a chevron-shaped tessellating pattern. My favorite item featuring this pattern is the blue Diplocaulus scarf (now with free US shipping), as it makes such a beautiful striped effect and the material is so light and graceful. To be fair, I'm a big scarf fan (it's a square of fabric you can do anything with!) so I'll always be biased in that direction, but it's definitely a big part of my work attire these days.

the author and designer wearing the Diplocaulus scarf and looking super serious

Just LOOK at this scarf - professional, secretly nerdy, and a nice pop of color. I mean, I'm not smiling really in this image but that's because I've spent too much time googling "what is a model face" and got confused by a lot of directions about what I was supposed to do with my eyebrows, not because I'm not stoked about the scarf.

My favorite thing about this pattern is that it's a very subtle, aesthetically pleasing print - which means that strangers will ask you about it without realizing they're about to get #SciCommed on the streets. I think of this as Sneak Attack SciComm - not only do you get a cool, pretty print to wear, but because it's subtle you get to talk about how awesome Diplocaulus is with other fashionable folks who might not otherwise always be interested in paleontology. 

References (and Fun Diplocaulus Info)

  • "Diplocaulus: the boomerang-head Amphibian" by Bob Bakker. https://blog.hmns.org/2010/02/diplocaulus-the-boomerang-head-amphibian/
  • Hydrodynamics of an extinct amphibian." By B.W. Skews. Journal of Applied Fluid Mechanics. https://www.sid.ir/FileServer/JE/112520160613.pdf 
  • "The functional significance of nectridean tabular horns (Amphibia: Lepospondyli)." By Cruickshank, Arthur RI, and B. W. Skews. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/abs/10.1098/rspb.1980.0110 

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