Ancient Chinese gharial marine reptile fossils

Fossils of Miragerosaurus. Image from: Shang Qinghua et al

Shang Qinghua, a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, introduced a newly discovered fossil fossil of an ancient gharial marine reptile. The discovery provides new insights into the early evolution of marine reptiles. The results were published online in Scientific Reports on 5 January.

The fossil, unearthed in the second section of the Guanling Formation in Luoping County, Yunnan Province, is located in rock formations dating back to the Triassic period, about 244 million years ago, when early marine reptiles began to evolve different characteristics and gradually diverge in appearance.

The fossil specimen found this time has a distinctly long snout, covering about 55% of the entire length of the skull, as well as large eye sockets and flippers, and its remains (missing tail end) are 46.2 centimeters long. Shang Qinghua, the corresponding author of the paper, said that the total length of the reptile may reach 64 centimeters.

The researchers say the sample represents the oldest known long-snouted Pleurosaurus — a family of primitive marine reptiles, similar to aquatic lizards, that were the ancestors of later marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs. Because of the species’ large phalangeal number, the researchers named it Mirisorpinosaurus, a feature they pointed out that this feature may favor the flexion and extension of the toes in response to the hydrodynamic forces experienced by the flippers when turning. In addition, research suggests that its long snout may have evolved to help catch prey and reduce resistance when chasing fast-swimming prey.

“It is possible that it evolved at the western tip of the Gutetis Ocean (present-day Europe) and then spread to the east and modern China.” Shang Qinghua said. (Source: China Science News, Feng Lifei, Wang Jianzhuo)

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