A prehistoric marine lizard that was found in Morocco has been compared to Harry Potter’s Basilisk serpent. This new species of mosasaur, which has been named Pluridens serpentis, became extinct around 66 million years ago.
Scientists from the United Kingdom, France, and Morocco reconstructed this new species from “...two complete skulls and referred jaws.” Based on their reconstruction, the Pluridens serpentis was believed to have measured as long as 8 meters (26 feet). This is staggering as the majority of the species’ relatives only grew to about a few meters in length.
It had “elongate and robust jaws, small teeth, and specialized tooth implantation” that would have helped it to catch small prey. Additionally, it wouldn’t have been able to see very far because it had such small eyes. According to the study, it probably “relied on nonvisual cues including touch and chemoreception during foraging, as in modern marine snakes.”
Dr. Nick Longrich, who is a paleontologist from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, explained this in further detail, “The fact that Pluridens serpentis had so many nerves in the face may mean that it was using changes in water pressure to detect animals in low-light conditions, either at night or in deep, dark water.” “If it wasn’t using the eyes, then it’s very likely that it was using the tongue to hunt, like a snake.”
An image of what the Pluridens serpentis would have looked like can be seen here.
In more ancient species news, the earliest evidence of a side-necked turtle in North America has been found at the Arlington Archosaur Site (AAS) in Texas. The site was once the location of an ancient river delta. The new species, which has been called Pleurochayah appalachius, was a bothremydid turtle that lived about 96 million years ago.
The group of side-necked turtles initially inhabited the south continent of Gondwana before eventually traveling to the northern continent of Laurasia during the Early Cretaceous Period. The Pleurochayah appalachius is in fact one of the oldest pieces of evidence regarding intercontinental dispersals by the turtles and is the earliest ever example of a bothremydid (side-necked turtle) found in North America and in all of Laurasia.
The species was obviously a very skilled swimmer as proved by the large bony attachments that were found on its humerus bone that once held strong muscles. Analysis of its remains also indicated that it probably used a rowing motion for swimming rather than the flapping motions used by today’s sea turtles.
Brent Adrian – Senior Research Specialist, Anatomy, at the Midwestern University College of Graduate Studies – described the importance of the Pleurochayah appalachius fossil, “This discovery provides the earliest evidence of side-necked turtles in North America and expands our understanding of the first migrations of the extinct bothremydids. It further establishes the Arlington Archosaur Site as an important fossil unit that is revealing the foundations of an endemic Appalachian fauna.” Their study can be read here.
An image of what the Pleurochayah appalachius would have looked like can be seen here.