Mystery Solved: 240 million year old reptiles lived in the ocean

An ancient reptile that stands out due to its long, giraffe-like neck can live in the ocean, and not on land, scientists have said.

The findings, published in the journal Current biology, Are based on a digital reconstruction of the crushed skull Tanystropheus, Which lived 240 million years ago.

Although first described in 1852, scientists have debated whether the reptile, which is more than 6 meters tall, lives on land or under water because of its “bizarre body of things one way or another. Does not clarify from “.

Read more Find Fossils:

TanystropheusHer neck was 3 m long – three times longer than her torso – but not very flexible and had only 13 extremely long vertebrae to hold.

Researchers said that the reptile’s neck is similar to the giraffe’s long neck, which only has seven neck bones. However, skull reconstruction revealed Tanystropheus For “very clear adaptation to life in water”.

Researchers found its nostrils at the top of the muzzle, similar to modern-day crocodiles.

In addition, the teeth were long and curved, helping to catch slippery prey such as fish.

Rebuild the skeletons Tanniprotehus hydroids And Tanystrophus longobardicus. The 170 cm long diver’s outline serves as the scale © Beat Scaffold, Yuzo

Olivier Repel, a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, US, and one of the study’s authors, described the creature as “a fat crocodile with a very long neck”.

He said: “This neck does not make sense in a terrestrial environment.

“It’s just a strange structure to carry.”

Despite being a sea creature, researchers believe Tanystropheus One may be a poor swimmer, due to the “lack of visual adaptation to swim in swimmers and tails”.

We expected bizarre neck Tanystropheus To be exclusive to a single work, like a giraffe’s neck. But in fact, it allowed many lifestyles. This completely changes the way we see this animal.

Stephen Speakman, University of Zurich

Stephen Speakman, a paleontologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and lead author of the study, said: “It probably secretly approaches its prey using its small head and hidden long neck to hide in its waters. ”

Tanystropheus Lived 242 million years ago, during the Middle Tricic period, when dinosaurs just began to emerge on land and giant reptiles dominated the ocean.

The remains of this creature were unearthed at Monte San Giorgio on the border of Switzerland and Italy.

Scientists have also found fossils in this area that look similar Tanystropheus But are only 1.2 meters long.

Tanyastropus' skull has several apparent adaptations to life in the water: nostrils located on top of the muzzle and curved teeth, fully adapted to capture slippery prey © Emma Finale-Jacob
Skull of Tanystropheus There are several obvious adaptations to life in the water: the nostrils, located on top of the muzzle and bent teeth, are perfectly adapted to catch slippery prey © Emma Finale-Jacob

To find out whether these small specimens were juveniles or a separate species, researchers looked for growth rings to examine bones, which then determine the species’ age.

The analysis shows the maturing of small organisms, which suggests that they belonged to a different species, Tanystrophus longobardicus.

Nick Fraser, a defender of natural sciences at the National Museum of Scotland and a co-author on the paper, said: “It is extremely important to know that there were two different species of this bizarre long-necked reptile, which floated with each other and each other. Lived around 240 million years ago in the great coastal waters of the Tethys. ”

Disney reconstructs Tanyastropus' skull © Stephen Speakman et al / Current Biology
Digitally reconstructed skull Tanystropheus © Stephen Speakman et al / Current Biology

Mr Speakman said: “These two closely related species evolved to use different food sources in the same environment.

“Unlike fish, small species fed like shrimp on animals with small shells, unlike fish and eat large species.

“It’s really remarkable, because we expected a bizarre neck Tanystropheus To be exclusive to a single work, like a giraffe’s neck.

“But in fact, it allowed for many lifestyles. It completely changed the way we see this animal.”

Reader Q&A: How are fossils of dinosaur footprints?

Asked by Rob French, Sheffield

First, creatures must step through sediment that is sufficiently viable to record their footprints, but it is not the case that it is washed before being protected by fresh sediment.

Each footprint has three possibilities of becoming a fossil: as the original perception (‘true track’), as its faint imprint in the underlying layers (‘undertrack’), or by filling new sediment in the original effect (‘natural cast’ ‘) And strict. Either way, as sedimentary layers form, the pressure turns them into rock – which, given the greater luck yet – will retain the print for Aeon.

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