New Species of Extinct Sea-Dwelling Reptile found in Russia
A new species of a fossil pliosaur (large predatory marine reptile from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods) has been found in Russia and will profoundly change how we understand the evolution of the group, says an international team of scientists.
Similar in appearance to a river dolphin or gharial crocodile, the fish-eating sea beast would have had a long beak-like snout.
Related to the top predators who ruled the ocean during the dinosaur age, its lengthy “rostrum” set it apart from its relatives who had large and powerful toothed jaws. The skull of the new species, dubbed “Luskhan itilensis”, meaning the Master Spirit from the Volga river, is 1.5m in length, indicating a large animal.
The “pilosaur Luskhan itilensis” is estimated to have measured about 6.5m (21.3ft) – the size of a small bus – according to research published in the journal Current Biology.
Master Spirit from the Volga River
It would have had four large flippers which evolved from feet over a long period of time, and an oar-like tail.
It is thought to have lived 130 million years ago at the same time as stegosaurus and diplodocus. Tyrannosaurus rex lived 66 million years ago.
Fifteen years ago in Autumn of 2002 on right bank of the Volga River, close to the city of Ulyanovsk, by Gleb Uspensky, of Ulyanovsk State University, one of the co-authors of the paper.
Scientists believe that the animal’s unusual beak suggests that this family of marine reptiles – called plesiosaurs – colonised a much wider range of ecological niches than previously believed.