Biology

Porpoise-sized mosasaur sported specialized shark-like teeth

Porpoise-sized mosasaur sporte...
Xenodens calminechari, pictured feeding on the carcass of a larger marine reptile
Xenodens calminechari, pictured feeding on the carcass of a larger marine reptile
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Xenodens calminechari, pictured feeding on the carcass of a larger marine reptile
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Xenodens calminechari, pictured feeding on the carcass of a larger marine reptile
Prepared fossils of Xenodens, showing its serrated teeth
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Prepared fossils of Xenodens, showing its serrated teeth
A reconstruction of Xenodens' skull
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A reconstruction of Xenodens' skull
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Tyrannosaurus rex may have ruled the land in the time of the dinosaurs, but the mosasaur was likely the most ferocious reptile in the sea. A new species of the creature was recently classified, which distinguished itself with teeth like those of a shark.

Named Xenodens calminechari, the animal lived off the coast of what is now Morocco during the Cretaceous period, approximately 66 million years ago. And while some mosasaurs were up to 10 meters long (33 ft), it was only about the size of a small porpoise. That said, its unique teeth likely allowed it to "punch above its weight."

Whereas the teeth of other mosasaurs were conical, not unlike the teeth of present-day orcas, Xenodens' were flat and serrated like a shark's. As a result, it could not only slice and dice small fish, but was probably also able to bite chunks out of much bigger prey – it may also have scavenged the carcasses of large marine reptiles.

In other words, it was not limited by a specialized feeding strategy, but was instead able to take advantage of a wide variety of opportunities.

A reconstruction of Xenodens' skull
A reconstruction of Xenodens' skull

"A mosasaur with shark teeth is a novel adaptation of mosasaurs so surprising that it looked like a fantastic creature out of an artist's imagination," says Dr. Nour-Eddine Jalil of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and Universite Cadi Ayyad in Marrakech. "It is as if nature is struggling to find all the combinations for an ever finer exploitation of food sources."

A paper on the study of the creature's fossilized remains, which is being led by Dr. Nick Longrich of Britain's University of Bath, was recently published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Source: University of Bath

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