Scientists Discover Ancient Marine Reptiles

Jul 26, 2006

A team led by University of Adelaide palaeontologist Dr Benjamin Kear has identified two new species of ancient marine reptiles that swam the shallow waters of an inland sea in Australia 115 million years ago.

Umoonasaurus and Opallionectes belonged to a group of animals called plesiosaurs, long-necked marine reptiles resembling the popular image of the Loch Ness monster, that lived during the time of the dinosaurs.

Dr Kear and his colleagues from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the South Australian Museum identified the new species based on opalised fossils of 30 individuals found in old collections and recent excavations.

The team’s findings were recently published in both the international journal Palaeontology, and the online edition of the Biology Letters.

Umoonasaurus was a rhomaleosaurid – a kind of plesiosaur that was the “killer whale equivalent of the Jurassic,” according to Dr Kear. Distinguished by its relatively small size (around 2.4 metres) and three crest-like ridges on its skull, Umoonasaurus was also a “Cretaceous living fossil” outliving its giant predatory relatives by more than 100 million years.

“Imagine a compact body with four flippers, a reasonably long neck, small head and short tail – much like a reptilian seal.”

The team named the reptile after Umoona, the Aboriginal name for the Coober Pedy region where the most complete skeletons have been found.

Opallionectes was also a plesiosaur but much larger - about six metres long with masses of fine, needle-like teeth for trapping small fish and squid. Its name means “the opal swimmer from Andamooka”.

Both creatures lived in a freezing polar sea that covered what is now Australia 115 million years ago, when the continent was located much closer to Antarctica.

Dr Kear, an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, identified the ancient aquatic reptiles with fellow team members Natalie Schroeder and Dr Michael Lee, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. All three work out of the South Australian Museum.

Source: University of Adelaide

Explore further: Digging up the 'Spanish Vikings'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

First dinosaurs identified from Saudi Arabia

Jan 07, 2014

Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in the Arabian Peninsula. An international team of scientists from Uppsala University, Museum Victoria, Monash University, and the Saudi Geological Survey have now ...

Recommended for you

Digging up the 'Spanish Vikings'

19 hours ago

The fearsome reputation of the Vikings has made them the subject of countless exhibitions, books and films - however, surprisingly little is known about their more southerly exploits in Spain.

Short-necked Triassic marine reptile discovered in China

Dec 17, 2014

A new species of short-necked marine reptile from the Triassic period has been discovered in China, according to a study published December 17, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xiao-hong Chen f ...

Gothic cathedrals blend iron and stone

Dec 17, 2014

Using radiocarbon dating on metal found in Gothic cathedrals, an interdisciplinary team has shown, for the first time through absolute dating, that iron was used to reinforce stone from the construction phase. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.