It’s difficult to resist calling pliosaurs sea monsters. Their long, toothy jaws and strange, streamlined shapes make them dead ringers for what we fear waiting for us in the deep and, for my own part, I’m a little less hesitant to plunge into the ocean knowing that the last of them went extinct over 66 million years ago.
Many pliosaurs are cast in the same role – as big apex predators capable of munching on prey as large, if not larger than, themselves. But not all pliosaurs accomplished these gustatory feats in the same fashion. A new fossil pliosaur described by paleontologist Valentin Fischer and colleagues late last year hints that one carnivore, at least, was accomplishing the same task in a slightly different way.
There was only just enough of the animal, named Makhaira, for Fischer and coauthors to identify it as something new. The reptile’s preservation in 130 million-year-old limestone nodules was not kind to its bones. But the teeth and jaws from the tip of the predator’s snout make it stand out from its relatives. Each tooth of Makhaira had three serrated cutting edges, and the teeth were not as closely-spaced as those of other big-game-hunting pliosaurs. The overall picture is that Makhaira slammed this distinctive dental armory into big prey even though it wasn’t as massive as some of its larger relatives, indicating that pliosaurs were still capable of big bites even at smaller size.
Name: Makhaira rossica
Meaning: Makhaira is a Latinized version of the Greek word for “curved blade” and rossica denotes the animal’s discovery in Russia.
Age: Around 130 million years ago.
Where in the world?: Slantsevy Rudnik, western Russia.
What sort of critter?: A marine reptile known as a pliosaur.
Size: Estimated around 15 feet long.
How much of the creature’s body is known?: A fragmentary skeleton including parts of the jaws, teeth, several vertebrae, and pieces of the hips.
Fischer, V., Arkhangelsky, M., Stenshin, I., Uspensky, G., Zverkov, N., Benson, R. 2015. Peculiar macrophagous adaptations in a new Cretaceous pliosaurid. Royal Society Open Science. doi: 10.1098/rsos.150552
Previous Paleo Profiles:
The Unfortunate Dragon
The Cross Lizard
The South China Lizard
Zhenyuan Sun’s dragon
The Fascinating Scrap
The Sloth Claw
The Hefty Kangaroo
The Rain-Maker Lizard
The Ancient Agama
The Cutting Shears of Kimbeto Wash
The False Moose
“Miss Piggy” the Prehistoric Turtle
Mexico’s “Bird Mimic”
The Greatest Auk
Catalonia’s Little Ape
Pakistan’s Butterfly-Faced Beast
The Head of the Devil
Spain’s Megatoothed Croc
The Smoke Hill Bird
The Vereda Hilarco Beast
The North’s Sailback
Amidala’s Strange Horn
The Northern Mantis Shrimp
Spain’s High-Spined Herbviore
Wucaiwan’s Ornamented Horned Face
Alcide d’Orbigny’s Dawn Beast
The Shield Fortress
The Dragon Thief
The Purgatoire River’s Whale Fish