Thalassotitan skull fossil

Incredible fossils reveal a giant lizard that ruled the oceans with teeth and fear: Science Alert

The discovery of an incredible fossil of the giant sea lizard has revealed how this ancient extinct beast ruled the oceans 66 million years ago.

The beast is a newly discovered mosasaur, a giant marine reptile that preyed on the ocean during the late Cretaceous.

It is called Thalassotitan atroxits worn teeth and other remains found at its excavation site suggest that this formidable animal was not a gentle giant, but preyed on difficult prey such as turtles, plesiosaurs and other mosasaurs.

Other mosasaurs hunted for smaller prey, such as fish or ammonites (not always that small in practice).

One of the Thalassotitan skulls. (University of Bath)

this means sea ​​bathing May occupy a position at the very top of the food web, maintaining the ecosystem by controlling other predators.

sea ​​bathing “Imagine a Komodo dragon interbreeding with a great white shark,” said Nick Longridge, a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Bath, UK. Tyrannosaurus Rex Interact with killer whales. “

Artistic impression of thalassotitan
artistic reconstruction Thalassotitan astrox. (Andrei Artuchin)

No reptile today can reach the size of a mosasaur, reaching a length of 12 meters (40 feet)—twice the size of the crocodile, the largest modern reptile. But mosasaurs are far from being related to modern snakes and iguanas.

The mosasaur was better adapted to a completely aquatic lifestyle than the marine iguanas of the Galapagos. They have a reptilian head but webbed feet instead of claw feet, and a tail with shark-like fins.

Given their different teeth, different mosasaur species could also specialize in different prey. Some teeth are small and pointed, suitable for fish and squid; others have duller teeth and broken jaws, perfect for shelled creatures.

However, given that these animals do not appear to have a good sense of smell, it is likely that they were primarily predators rather than scavengers.

Analysis shows that mosasaurs fed on fish, cephalopods, turtles, mollusks, other mosasaurs and even birds. sea ​​bathing Seems to be the most ferocious.

The fossils were found in Morocco’s phosphate fossil beds, an area rich in diverse and well-preserved Cretaceous and Miocene fossils.

Remains include skulls, vertebrae, limb bones and phalanges.Together, they allow a complete description Hylazo Titan’s Skull, jaw and teeth, as well as bones, shoulders and forelimbs.

Longrich and his team found that the animal could have grown to around 9 to 10 meters — slightly larger than an orca. However, its skull is almost twice that of an orca, about 1.5 meters long.

Size chart comparing thalassotitan to orcas and humans
The chart shows the impressive size of Thalassotitan. (University of Bath)

Unlike other mosasaurs with slender mouths, Hylazo Titan’s The jaws are broad and short, with huge conical teeth perfect for catching and tearing prey. The teeth contained another clue about the animal’s diet: Many of the teeth were broken and worn, a damage that would not have occurred with a diet consisting primarily of soft prey.

According to the researchers, this shows that sea ​​bathing Its teeth shattered and broke off on hard surfaces like turtle shells and the bones of other, perhaps more timid, mosasaurs.

This is supported by other fossils found nearby sea ​​bathing Remains: Bones of large predatory fish, turtle shells, plesiosaur skulls, and bones of at least three different mosasaurs.

The remains all showed signs of acid wear and, as you might expect, could have been present in the digestive acid in the behemoth’s belly, which was then refluxed out. This is circumstantial evidence, the researchers point out; but it’s still interesting.

Wear on the teeth of the little thalassotitan
Worn on the teeth of a small Thalassotitan. (Longrich et al., Cretac. Res., 2020)

“We can’t be sure which animal ate all the other mosasaurs,” Longridge explained.

“But we have marine reptile bones killed and eaten by large predators. In the same place, we found sea ​​bathing, a species that fits the image of a killer—a mosasaur that specialized in preying on other marine reptiles. This may not be a coincidence. “

During the last 25 million years of the Cretaceous, mosasaurs became increasingly specialized and diverse.discovery sea ​​bathing suggests that mosasaurs were more diverse than we thought—their ecosystems were vibrant and thriving, with enough prey diversity to support the diversity of this predator.

This, in turn, had some interesting implications for the era that led to the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction 65 million years ago. This means that instead of declining and making the world vulnerable, as some believe, biodiversity may have grown stronger after a smaller extinction event in the mid-Cretaceous.

More excavations of Moroccan fossil beds should shed light on this intriguing possibility.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Longrich said.

“Morocco has one of the richest and most diverse marine fauna since the Cretaceous. We are just beginning to understand the diversity and biology of mosasaurs.”

The paper has been published in Cretaceous studies.

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