About 242 million years ago, a reptile lived on Earth about six meters long. At a time when huge marine reptiles and powerful large dinosaurs ruled the seas and the land, you might not be so surprised at first. Were it not for the fact that this six-meter long reptile – called Tanystropheus – was equipped with a three-meter long neck. Over the past 150 years, many paleontologists have been studying. What was this beast? And where did he belong? On land? Or in the water?
Much to the relief of paleontologist Olivier Rieppel. “I have been studying Tanystropheus for over thirty years, so it is extremely satisfying to see that the mystery surrounding these organisms has been cleared up.”
A comprehensive analysis of the fossil remains of Tanystropheus indicates that the absurd reptile belonged in the sea. And that there have been at least two types of Tanystropheus.
Most of tanystropheus’s fossil remains have been found at Monte San Giorgio, on the border between Switzerland and Italy. The first remains of the absurd reptile surfaced some 150 years ago and immediately raised the question of whether this animal lived mainly underwater or on land. With the latest technologies, researchers have now succeeded in reconstructing Tanystropheus’ skull and formulating an answer to that question.
The reconstruction indicates the skull was clearly adapted to life underwater. The nostrils are – just like modern crocodiles – on top of the snout. And Tanystropheus’ teeth are long and run around slightly, which makes them cut for grabbing slippery prey, like fish and squid.
Tanystropheus was a marine reptile. And that doesn’t surprise Rieppel. “The neck does not make sense in a country environment. It’s just very strange to have to carry it.” In the water, Tanystropheus with his long neck could go a little more ways, but anyone who imagines a huge marine reptile shooting through the water with its long neck is phony. The long-healed organism was probably not a fantastic swimmer, the researchers say. This is demonstrated by the fact that both the tail and the limbs of the reptile are not ideally suited for swimming at first sight. The researchers suspect that Tanystropheus was a fairly passive hunter. It lay still in the water waiting for the prey to pass by. “They used their small head and very long neck to stay hidden,” says researcher Stephan Spiekman.
The new research – published in the journal Current Biology – also indicates that there were two species.
The two species lived side-by-side 240 million years ago. They probably didn’t compete with each other, the researchers argue, based on the teeth of both species. “The smaller species probably ate small crustaceans, such as shrimp,” says Spiekman. The big ones ate mainly fish and cuttlefish. “This is really remarkable, because we expected tanystropheus’s bizarre neck – like giraffes – to specialize in one task. But in reality, these made different lifestyles possible.”
” Long Neck Helped Reptile Hunt Underwater ” – Universität Zurich
” Fossil mystery solved: super-long-necked reptiles lived in the ocean, not on land ” – Field Museum