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Scientists say ‘very strange’ fossil identified as ‘Chinese dragon’

via National Museum of Scotland
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Scientists discovered a remarkably preserved 240 million-year-old fossil of a 5-meter long aquatic reptile called Dinocephalosaurus orientalis in China.

The reptile had an extraordinarily long neck with 32 vertebrae, resembling a mythical Chinese dragon.

“With 32 separate neck vertebrae Dinocephalosaurus orientalis had an extraordinarily long neck that draws comparison with that of Tanystropheus hydroides, another strange marine reptile from the Middle Triassic of both Europe and China,” scientists said.

It was well adapted to an ocean lifestyle, as evidenced by flippers and fish in its stomach region.

While superficially similar to later long-necked plesiosaurs, researchers determined it was not closely related.

“Both reptiles were of similar size and have several features of the skull in common, including a fish-trap type of dentition,” the scientists added. “However, Dinocephalosaurus is unique in possessing many more vertebrae both in the neck and in the torso, giving the animal a much more snake-like appearance.”

“Despite superficial similarities, Dinocephalosaurus was not closely related to the famous long-necked plesiosaurs that only evolved around 40 million years later and which inspired the myth of the Loch Ness Monster.”

Analysis of new, more complete specimens allowed scientists for the first time to depict this bizarre long-necked Triassic creature in full.

The international team published their findings on the “weird and wonderful” discovery, shedding light on marine life in the early Triassic period.

“It is yet one more example of the weird and wonderful world of the Triassic that continues to baffle palaeontologists, Keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland Dr. Nick Fraser stated. “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.”

“This has been an international effort. Working together with colleagues from the United States of America, 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 of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology stated. “Among all of the extraordinary finds we have made in the Triassic of Guizhou Province, Dinocephalosaurus probably stands out as the most remarkable.”

“As an early-career researcher, it has been an incredible experience to contribute to these significant findings,” postdoctoral researcher Dr. Stephan Spiekman said. “We hope that our future research will help us understand more about the evolution of this group of animals, and particularly how the elongate neck functioned.”

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