Scientists Describe New Species of Marine Reptile

Scientists from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the University of Alberta (Canada), the University of Cincinnati (USA), Hobetsu Museum, Fukuoka University (Japan) and the University of Cincinnati (USA) have published a scientific paper announcing the discovery of a new species of a type of marine reptile known as a mosasaur.  This new mosasaur has been named Phosphorosaurus ponpetelegans and the huge eye socket in the skull suggests that this animal, distantly related to  modern snakes and lizards, hunted in low light conditions.

An Illustration of the Newly Described Mosasaur

A new species of Japanese mosasaur is described.

A new species of Japanese mosasaur is described.

Picture Credit: Tatsuya Shinmura / Ashoro Museum of Palaeontology / Trustees of the Natural History Museum, (London).

Scientists have suggested that this three-metre long carnivore may have specialised in hunting in deep water or perhaps it evolved to fill a specific ecological niche, that of a night time hunter preying on bioluminescent fish and squid.  Fossils of such fish along with Cephalopods have been found in the same Upper Cretaceous strata on the island of Hokkaido (northern Japan), where the mosasaur fossils were found in 2009.

A Picture of the Prepared Fossil Skull of Phosphorosaurus Showing the Huge Eye Socket

Note the huge eye socket.

Note the huge eye socket.

Picture Credit: Takuya Konishi et al.

Teaching Ideas/Extension

  1. Note that the photograph above has a scale bar showing below the fossilised skull (line of black and white squares).  Why do palaeontologists put a scale bar on their photographs?
  2. Approximately, how long is the skull of this marine reptile (note each black and white square in the scale bar equals one centimetre)?
  3. How wide is the eye socket in centimetres?
  4. Why would a carnivorous marine reptile need big eyes (link to the environment/habitat)?
  5. What does it mean when scientists think an animal fitted a “specific ecological niche”?
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