How did plesiosaurs get their super-long necks? New fossils provide clues

Rapid evolution rates and the specimens. Photo credit: University of Bristol

Have you ever wondered how some dinosaurs have really long necks?

Imagine a marine reptile like the plesiosaur, whose neck is five times longer than its body!

Scientists have figured out how this happened, and it’s like something straight out of a dinosaur movie.

First, let’s talk about plesiosaurs. These were ancient reptiles that lived in the sea about 250 million years ago. They had super long necks which they probably used to catch fish quickly.

Now researchers from China and Britain have figured out how these long necks came about.

And guess what? It didn’t take too long for them to develop. It all happened in just five million years!

How did scientists find out? They found two complete skeletons of a new species of reptile called Chusaurus xiangensis in China.

This little guy is important because he’s an ancestor of plesiosaurs and helps us understand how they evolved. Although Chusaurus had a short neck compared to its later relatives, this was the start of something big.

Qi-Ling Liu from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan led the project and was very excited to find this “new beast”.

It’s small, less than half a meter long, but it’s a big deal for understanding an important group of marine reptiles called Sauropterygia.

Now comes the interesting part. Normally, animals like us, reptiles and mammals, have seven bones in their necks. But these ancient creatures added more and more bones to make their necks longer.

Chusaurus started out with 17 neck bones, and over time some plesiosaurs had as many as 72! That’s like having a snake for a neck!

Professor Michael Benton of the University of Bristol explained that this rapid evolution took place immediately after a major catastrophe called the end-Permian mass extinction. This terrible event wiped out nearly 90% of all life on Earth.

But for those who survived, it was like a fresh start, especially for these marine reptiles that had to adapt quickly.

But why did they need such long necks? Scientists assume that these long-necked reptiles were small predators that fed on shrimp and small fish.

Their long necks helped them sneak up on schools of fish and catch them quickly. It’s like having a built-in fishing rod!

However, added Dr. Ben Moon of the University of Bristol adds that these plesiosaurs would likely have reached a “perfect neck length” for their way of life.

An extremely long neck could come with its own set of problems, such as: B. that it is difficult to move or requires more energy. Thus, the neck length stabilized at a point just right for catching their prey.

That is exciting discovery helps us understand how nature works in mysterious ways, especially after major changes like mass extinctions.

It shows us that animals can adapt quickly and in really fascinating ways, just like the plesiosaurs did with their amazing necks!

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Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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