Mosasaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles that could grow to the size of an 84-seat bus, were much speedier and shark-like than previously thought, an exceptionally well-preserved fossil specimen reveals.
The specimen is in such great shape that it includes soft tissue, according to a paper in the latest Nature Communications. That might open up the possibility of retrieving DNA and cloning the dinosaur-era animal.
For now, scientists are focusing on how surprisingly similar mosasaurs were to sharks both then and now.
“Since both groups occupied similar ecological niches, being top-level carnivores, and lived in similar environments -- i.e., the open sea -- they gradually came to look like each other, so-called convergent evolution,” lead author Johan Lindgren of Lund University’s Department of Geology told Discovery News.
Sharks have existed for hundreds of millions of years, Lindgren said, while mosasaurs lived about 98 to 66 million years ago.
Lindgren and colleagues Hani Kaddumi and Michael Polcyn conducted a detailed analysis of the mosasaur individual, found in what is now central Jordan. The remains include the animal’s crescent-shaped tail and flippers.
These features, plus the mosasaur’s sleek overall body plan, reveal that the toothy predator was built for speed. Until this discovery, researchers thought the animals were not nearly as fast.
“Given that mosasaurs are lizards, they have traditionally been assumed to be lizard-like animals with long, serpentine bodies and paddle-shaped tails, which were capable only of short bursts of speed during brief ambush pursuits,” Lindgren said.