CHARLESTON, S.C. — Researchers have discovered a new type of prehistoric sea creature whose name translates to “snakey crocodile-face.”
A team led by College of Charleston geology professor Scott Persons is behind the discovery of the Serpentisuchops, described as a “beast that swam the seas while dinosaurs walked the earth 70 million years ago.” It belongs in the group of animals known as plesiosaurs.
The creature has both a long serpentine neck and long crocodile-like jaws, somewhat of an anomaly for plesiosaurs.
“When I was a student,” said Persons, “I was taught that all late-evolving plesiosaurs fall into one of two anatomical categories: those with really long necks and tiny heads, and those with short necks and really long jaws. Well, our new animal totally confounds those categories.”
The remains of the Serpentisuchops were found in eastern Wyoming with the skeleton of the creature’s lengthy neck perfectly preserved.
“The neck vertebrae just kept going,” says Persons. “For comparison, your own neck has a mere seven vertebrae. Serpentisuchops has thirty-two.”
Researchers say the “extraordinary preservation” was due to the specimen sinking to the seafloor and remaining buried by fine-grained sediments until its discovery 70 million years later.
Based on the new discovery, the research team suggests older plesiosaur species should be reassessed to ensure their neck sizes have not been undermeasured.