Bizarre Giraffe-Necked Reptile Was a Surprisingly Adaptable Hunter

Tanystropheus Skull Visualization

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Nostrils situated on the top of the snout and curved teeth, completely adjusted for capturing slippery victim: The skull of Tanystropheus has a number of clear adjustments for life in water. Credit: Emma Finley-Jacob

Its neck was 3 times as long as its upper body, however had just 13 exceptionally lengthened vertebrae: Tanystropheus, a strange giraffe-necked reptile which lived 242 million years earlier, is a paleontological absurdity. A brand-new research study led by the University of Zurich has actually now revealed that the animal resided in water and was remarkably versatile.

For over 150 years, paleontologists have actually puzzled over Tanystropheus, its oddly long neck and whether it lived mainly undersea or on land. An global group led by the University of Zurich has actually now rebuilded its skull in extraordinary information utilizing synchrotron radiation micro-computed tomography (SRμCT), a very effective kind of CT scanning. In addition to exposing important elements of its way of life, this likewise reveals that Tanystropheus had actually progressed into 2 various types.

Tanystropheus Visualization

The neck of Tanystropheus was 3 times as long as its upper body, however had just thirteen exceptionally lengthened vertebrae. Credit: Emma Finley-Jacob

Underwater ambush predator

The scientists had the ability to rebuild a practically total 3D skull from a seriously crushed fossil. The restoration exposes that the skull of Tanystropheus has a number of really clear adjustments for life in water. The nostrils lie on the top of the snout, just like in modern-day crocodilians, and the teeth are long and curved, completely adjusted for capturing slippery victim like fish and squid. However, the absence of noticeable adjustments for swimming in the limbs and tail likewise implies that Tanystropheus was not an especially effective swimmer. “It likely hunted by stealthily approaching its prey in murky water using its small head and very long neck to remain hidden,” states lead author and UZH paleontologist Stephan Spiekman.

Two types cohabiting

Tanystropheus stays have actually primarily been discovered at Monte San Giorgio on the border in between Switzerland and Italy, a location so distinct for its Triassic fossils that it has actually been stated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two kinds of Tanystropheus fossils are understood from this area, one little and one big. Until now, these were thought to be the juveniles and grownups of the exact same types.

Tanystropheus Skeletons Size Comparison

Reconstructions of the skeletons of Tanystropheus hydroides (big types, recently called) and Tanystropheus longobardicus (little types). The overview of a 170 cm high scuba diver functions as the scale. Credit: Beat Scheffold, PIMUZ, UZH

However, the present research study negates this presumption. The rebuilded skull, coming from a big specimen, is really various from the currently understood smaller sized skulls, especially when it pertains to its dentition. In order to see whether the little fossils in fact came from young animals, the scientists took a look at samples of limb bones from the smaller sized kind of Tanystropheus. They discovered lots of development rings which form when bone development is considerably decreased. “The number and distribution of the growth rings tells us that these smaller types were not young animals, as previously considered, but mature ones,” states last author Torsten Scheyer. “This implies that the little fossils came from a different, smaller sized types of Tanystropheus.”

Specialists in various food sources

According to Spiekman, these 2 carefully associated types had actually progressed to utilize various food sources in the exact same environment: “The small species likely fed on small shelled animals, like shrimp, in contrast to the large species which ate fish and squid.” For the scientists, this is an actually impressive finding: “We anticipated the unusual neck of Tanystropheus to be specialized for a single job, like the neck of a giraffe. But in fact, it enabled a number of way of lives.”

Read Bizarre Giraffe-Necked Reptile Hunted Underwater for more on this research study.

Reference: “Aquatic Habits and Niche Partitioning in the Extraordinarily Long-Necked Triassic Reptile Tanystropheus” by Stephan N.F. Spiekman, James M. Neenan, Nicholas C. Fraser, Vincent Fernandez, Olivier Rieppel, Stefania Nosotti and Torsten M. Scheyer, 6 August 2020, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.07.025

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