Fossil find reveals monstrous marine predator that stalked Jurassic seas
Paleontologists have discovered fossils from a gigantic marine predator that stalked the Jurassic seas. According to the team, the creature could have grown to twice the size of an orca, and likely fed on pretty much anything else unlucky enough to be in the ocean at that time.
The researchers, from the University of Portsmouth, discovered a series of four large fossil vertebrae in a drawer at Abingdon County Hall Museum in Oxfordshire, England. They were able to classify these previously unidentified bones as belonging to a Pliosaurus or a closely related species.
Pliosaurs were a group of marine predators that lived alongside the dinosaurs in the Late Jurassic, about 150 million years ago. They had big stocky bodies, four flippers, a relatively short tail and a terrifying crocodile head full of teeth.
Most are thought to have averaged about 8 m (26 ft) long – but these fossil vertebrae seem to have come from a much bigger specimen. Based on the size of vertebrae in known pliosaur species, the team estimate that the creature whose backbone they now had was between 9.8 and 14.4 m (32.1 and 47.2 ft) long, with the higher end more likely.
The team hasn’t been able to identify the specific species that these bones came from, but whatever it was it may have been the biggest predator stalking the oceans of the time.
“They were at the top of the marine food chain and probably preyed on ichthyosaurs, long-necked plesiosaurs and maybe even smaller marine crocodiles, simply by biting them in half and taking chunks off them,” said Professor David Martill, corresponding author of the study. “We know they were massacring smaller marine reptiles because you can see bite marks in ichthyosaur bones in examples on display in The Etches Collection in Dorset.”
These giant pliosaurs may have ruled the waters during the Jurassic, but they were bookended by even bigger sea monsters. During the Triassic, some ichthyosaurs are thought to have grown almost to the size of blue whales, up to 26 m (85 ft) long. Later, in the Cretaceous period, mosasaurs are thought to have reached up to 17 m (56 ft) long.
Finding more bones may help scientists pin this creature down to a species more precisely, and get a better understanding of how big it really was.
The research was published in the journal The Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.
Source: University of Portsmouth