A baffling extinct animal was truly a marine reptile that will have used its extraordinarily long neck to ambush prey.
Fossils of Tanystropheus had been recognized over 100 years in the past, however the animal’s true nature has long been a thriller. It lived round 242 million years in the past, within the Triassic interval. Life on Earth was nonetheless recovering from the end-Permian mass extinction of 252 million years in the past, and the primary dinosaurs had been rising.
Tanystropheus was a reptile. Its most placing characteristic was its disproportionately long neck, which was 3 times the size of its physique. Fossil stays of it fell into two teams: giant specimens as much as 6 metres long and small ones as much as 1.5m. But questions remained.
“Is it terrestrial or is it marine? Are those juveniles and adults, or are they two different species?” says Olivier Rieppel of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
His crew re-examined a cranium from a giant specimen. The cranium had been crushed, however the person bones had been undamaged. So the crew was in a position to CT scan them and digitally reposition them to reconstruct the cranium, revealing essential anatomical particulars.
The cranium is unmistakably that of a marine animal, says Rieppel. For occasion, its nostrils are on the highest of the snout, to permit it to breathe when it surfaced. “Biomechanically, that neck doesn’t make sense on land.”
Meanwhile, the bones of the smaller fossils confirmed a number of progress rings, indicating they belonged to adults, not juveniles. This means the big and small fossils are literally totally different species, not adults and juveniles of the identical species, says Rieppel.
The two species had been in a position to coexist in the identical waters as a result of they ate totally different meals. The giant species ate fish and cephalopods like squid, whereas the smaller one most likely ate tiny invertebrates like shrimp.
“Somehow this neck was functional, probably in ambush predation,” says Rieppel. Tanystropheus could have hidden its physique and used its long neck to shock its prey.
Despite its peculiar look, Tanystropheus appears to have flourished. Fossils have been present in Europe, Israel and China, indicating it was widespread. “In spite of its long neck, it was obviously a very successful animal, with a wide geographic distribution,” says Rieppel.
Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.07.025
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