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Fossil evidence has revealed how the necks of 240-million-year-old reptiles were severed

In 1830, Henry Delabich, the English paleontologist, by drawing a work called “Dorset more ancient”, depicted a picture of the oceans of the Mesozoic era. In this painting, he showed a long-necked marine reptile with its throat caught between the jaws of a terrifying ichthyosaur.

Almost two centuries passed without direct evidence of the biting of the creature’s neck depicted in Delabich’s painting; But a study published last week in the journal Cornet Biology provides grim and rare evidence that ancient hunters saw the elongated necks of prehistoric sea-roaming reptiles as a tempting target.

The decapitated animal, whose neck was cut in half during the predator’s attack, belongs to the Tanystropheus species; A marine reptile that could be up to 6 meters long and lived 237 to 247 million years ago. This reptile was an ambush predator that fed on fish and squid in tropical wetlands during the Middle Triassic.

Tanystropheus had a very long neck, which in some cases was three times its length. The remains of this decapitated animal were discovered in the Monte San Giorgio fossil site, located on the border of Switzerland and Italy. This area has a huge reservoir of marine life belonging to the Middle Triassic era.

Stephen Speakman, a vertebrate paleontologist at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, was studying two different species of Tanystropheus; One of these species belonged to T. hydra and the other to T. longobardicus, which was a smaller species with a length of 1.5 meters. This study was a part of Speakman’s doctoral thesis at the Museum of Paleontology, University of Zurich.

A closer look at the fossils showed that their necks had been cut and clear bite marks were visible on the bodies of some of these vertebrates. Speakman and Yodald Majalanother paleontologist from the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart examined bite marks and bone fractures in the remains of Tanystropheus to understand what happened to these ancient creatures.

The findings show that the two investigated animals were attacked by another predator. It seems that this predator has targeted the long neck of Tanystropheus as the weak point of their body.

They found two tooth holes exactly where the reptile’s neck had been broken, Speakman told the website LiveScience. According to him, the animal’s neck is broken on a smooth diagonal surface; A sign that shows that the neck has been severed during a gas attack. “The first few bites may not have hit the bone,” Speakman added. But considering the presence of large predators in that environment, it is quite acceptable for a large predator to bite the neck in one move.”

There were no traces of bodies in the fossil site; But the heads and what remained of the necks were well preserved. This suggests that the predator targeted the long necks of Tanystropheus so that it could kill its targets very quickly and feast on their fleshy bodies.

List of possible killers

What animal could kill an ambush hunter? According to Speakman, the sheer diversity of the Monte San Giorgio area means we’re faced with a considerable list of potential killers. By measuring the distance between the holes in the teeth, scientists can match the size of the bite to the large predators that lived in the area at the time.

In view of this, the researchers obtained the final list of suspects: Cymbospondylosis boxeri (Cymbospondylus buchseri) which was an early large ichthyosaur and could grow up to 5.5 meters. Second, a huge reptile called Notosaurus giganteus (Nothosaurus giganteus) which probably grew up to 7 meters and the third, Haloticosaurus Zollingeri (Helveticosaurus zollingeri); A 3.6-meter-long mysterious predator with powerful forelimbs, a flexible tail, and a strong, serrated snout.

Researchers say that although the long neck of Tanystropheus was the weak point of this animal; Reptiles lasted approximately 175 million years with long, stiff necks; A point that shows that this body part played an important role in the Triassic period.

According to Speakman, the existence of two different species of Tanystropheus with different sizes and diets in Monte San Giorgio shows that their long and stiff necks were multi-purpose. “We think the relatively small heads and long necks helped Tanystropheus to ambush its prey,” he adds. Because in the water with low visibility, it was difficult to recognize this head for any prey. “They were also likely to avoid large predators by staying in shallow water most of the time.”


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