In 1984, Sankar Chatterjee curator of paleontology for the Museum of Texas Tech College and his pupil, Bryan Small, made an astounding discovery. Engaged on Seymour Island in Antarctica, they uncovered the fossilized cranium of an animal they’d by no means seen earlier than.
Whereas it was clearly a plesiosaur a Cretaceous-period marine reptile scientists first found in the early 1600s this plesiosaur was in contrast to any beforehand discovered. They named the new species Morturneria and introduced its skeleton again to the Museum of Texas Tech.
Now, 33 years later, Chatterjee and his group have made a new discovery about Morturneria, one which provides an entire new dimension to science’s understanding of plesiosaurs and bigger than that, to the understanding of evolution itself.
Greater than 65 million years in the past, Earth’s oceans had been populated with many animals nonetheless discovered there at present, like fish, krill and sharks. However one of many oceans’ largest predators, the plesiosaurs, went extinct concurrently the dinosaurs on land.
“Often, plesiosaurs are called sea monsters,” stated Chatterjee, a Horn Professor in the Division of Geosciences. “They were large 50 feet long, superb swimmers and occupied the top of the marine food chain.
Although dinosaurs are very familiar to everyone, during their days, the sea was ruled by these monster-like plesiosaurs. Like dinosaurs on land, they dominated the sea from Arctic to Antarctic waters. “
Plesiosaurs had a broad, flat body and short tail, four long flippers they used to “fly” by means of the water, lengthy necks and really sharp tooth.
“The teeth of most plesiosaurs are conical, stout, sharp, robust and ideal for stabbing and killing large animals,” Chatterjee stated.
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However as he wrote in his 1984 paper saying Morturneria’s discovery, “the long, slender and delicate teeth may have formed a ‘trapping’ device that enabled (the animals) to feed on small fish and crustaceans that abound in the same deposits.”
This notation led a global group of Chilean, Argentinian and American paleontologists to take a more in-depth have a look at Morturneria’s tooth.
“In our 1984 paper, we described the unusual teeth of Morturneria and their probable function,” he stated. “However, our new international team, who had worked on plesiosaurs from many continents, found them fascinating and unique.”
Chatterjee and the group reconstructed Morturneria with a big, spherical head, an enormous mouth and tiny tooth that time the fallacious method. The tooth didn’t meet tip to tip as in all different plesiosaurs, however lay collectively in a battery that strained meals particles from the water.
“When the jaw was closed, teeth from the upper and lower jaws formed a nice trap,” Chatterjee stated. “Basically, the animal would swallow a school of krill, close the jaws to let the water out, but keep the krill inside for chewing and swallowing.
With these kind of interdigitating delicate teeth, the animal could not tackle the large fish or shelled animals (called ammonites) that were the favorite foods of most plesiosaurs.”
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The group’s finding, printed in the new challenge of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, is that Morturneria used a filter-feeding technique. This feeding fashion is unknown in different marine reptiles however is discovered in at present’s baleen whales. F. Robin O’Keefe of Marshall College was the article’s lead writer.
The identification of Morturneria’s whale-like filter feeding is a startling case of convergent evolution between reptiles and mammals. Plesiosaurs and whales shared lots of the intervening steps in the evolution of this feeding fashion and their excessive morphologies are comparable regardless of arising from completely different ancestors.
Chatterjee stresses convergent evolution doesn’t suggest Morturneria was in any method associated to at present’s baleen whales; it simply means they each advanced the identical method.
“They had adopted similar lifestyle and feeding,” he stated. “For example, birds and bats fly, but birds are now considered dinosaurs and bats are mammals. These superficial similarities of lifestyles and behavior are called ‘convergent evolution.’”
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