New Fossil Plesiosaur discovered in Iran
Reports from Iranian news services are coming in about the discovery of plesiosaur fossils found in a relatively remote area of north-eastern Iran. It has been reported that a team of scientists from Mashad Open University have uncovered the partial remains of an ancient marine reptile believed to be more than 100 million years old.
The discovery was found in the heights of Mashad’s Kallat region, so far several rib fragments and vertebrae (backbone) fossils have been unearthed. The sediments have been dated to around 100 million years ago; from the Early Cretaceous (Albian faunal stage). These finds are important as the fossil record of these long-necked, marine reptiles is quite poor particularly in Lower Cretaceous strata. These fossils, plus any additional material that has yet to be removed may provide important clues as to the development an diversity of this successful group of ocean going reptiles.
To read more about another Early Cretaceous Plesiosaur: Plesiosaur named in honour of Dr Elizabeth “Betsy” Nicholls.
The fossils have been carefully crated up and sent to Germany for further study and a more detailed examination and comparison with existing plesiosaur remains recovered from earlier strata, European Jurassic sediments. The German scientists hope to be able to classify these new fossils more accurately, perhaps ascribing a family or a genus to this particular specimen.
The picture shows (according to the press release), a couple of the larger pieces so far recovered, based on the photograph it is hard to determine which part of the skeleton might be represented, indeed the early diagnosis of a plesiosaur may in fact be proved wrong when a more complete study is carried out. The fossils found so far represent only about 10% of the animal’s skeleton, further excavation work is planned by the Iranian team in the area, in the hope of finding more remains.
Just for a bit of fun, at the beginning of the year, Everything Dinosaur team members made their top ten predictions regarding likely palaeontological news stories that would break over the following twelve months or so. Everything Dinosaur team members predicted more plesiosaur fossils would be found in 2008. This is due to the extensive research being undertaken in more remote parts of the world with known Mesozoic marine sediments and also partially due to the fact that animals in a marine environment have a greater chance of fossilisation than their terrestrial peers.
To read more about the predictions for 2008, including the prediction for plenty more Plesiosaurs: New Year Predictions for 2008.
The plesiosaurs were a highly successful group of marine reptiles that evolved from land dwelling ancestors some time in the middle of the Triassic. The group had its heyday in the Jurassic but survived right up until the end of the Mesozoic, but their fossils become rarer towards the end of the Cretaceous and this part of the fossil record is dominated by elasmosaurids. The elasmosaurids were plesiosaurs that had gone to the “extreme” in terms of their neck length, in some genera the neck made up 50% of the entire animal’s body length. It is believed that all long-necked plesiosaurs were fish-eaters, using their long necks and small heads to dart into shoals of fish to catch a meal.
A view a model of a typical elasmosaurid (Elasmosaurus) and other prehistoric marine reptile figures in stock at Everything Dinosaur: Prehistoric Marine Reptile Models and Dinosaurs.
When reptiles took up life in the oceans, they evolved different forms of locomotion, scientists are still puzzled as to how plesiosaurs swam. For stability, the two pairs of flippers would have beaten in opposite directions, but the exact movement of these “underwater wings” has yet to be determined. The flippers may have operated independently of each other, giving a sort of 4-wheel drive effect, making these animals extremely manoeuvrable , very helpful if you are trying to catch fish underwater. The constitution of the vertebrae also indicate that their spines were very flexible, perhaps they undulated their bodies to help with propulsion through the water. This is a very unique form of locomotion, underwater flying almost, sadly the last of these magnificent creatures disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous… or did they?
Strange sea serpents and sea monsters are reported each year, on average there are about a half a dozen sightings every 12 months or so. Somewhere, perhaps in the remote waters of the Pacific; a population of these marine reptiles could have survived, after all up until 1938 everyone thought the Coelacanth was extinct.