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Fossil reveals 240 million year-old ‘dragon’

24-02-2024

EDINBURGH: Scientists have revealed a new, remarkably complete fossil, a 16ft (5m)-long aquatic reptile from the Triassic period.

The creature dates back 240 million years and has been dubbed a “dragon” because of its extremely long neck.

It is called Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, a species that was originally identified back in 2003.

This spectacular new fossil has allowed scientists to see the full anatomy of this bizarre prehistoric beast.

Dr Nick Fraser, from National Museums Scotland, who was part of the international team that studied the fossil, said this was the first time scientists had been able to see it in full. He described it as “a very strange animal”.

“It had flipper-like limbs and its neck is longer than its body and tail combined,” he said.

The researcher speculated that a “long, bendy and flexible neck”, with its 32 separate vertebrae, might have provided a hunting advantage allowing Dinocephalosaurus orientalis to search for food in crevices under the water.

The fossil was discovered in ancient limestone deposits in southern China.

“This discovery just adds to the weirdness of the Triassic,” Dr Fraser told media and “every time we look in these deposits, we find something new.”

The paper describing a set of new fossils of the animal is published in the journal Earth and Environmental Science: Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

According to Nick Fraser, keeper of natural sciences at National Museums Scotland: “The discovery allows us to see this remarkable long-necked marine reptile in full for the very first time. It is yet one more example of the weird and wonderful world of the Triassic that continues to baffle paleontologists.

“We are certain that it will capture imaginations across the globe due to its striking appearance, reminiscent of the long and snake-like mythical Chinese dragon,” Fraser told media.

Researchers from Scotland, Germany, America and China spent 10 years studying Dinocephalosaurus orientalis at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“This was an international effort. Working with colleagues from the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, we used newly discovered specimens housed at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to build on our existing knowledge of this animal,” Professor Li Chun of the institute said.

“Among all of the extraordinary finds we have made in the Triassic of Guizhou province, Dinocephalosaurus probably stands out as the most remarkable,” he added. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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