TechFossil of ancient 'Chinese dragon' marine reptile unveils its aquatic secrets after 240 million years

Fossil of ancient 'Chinese dragon' marine reptile unveils its aquatic secrets after 240 million years

Chinese dragon - illustrative photo
Chinese dragon - illustrative photo
Images source: © Getty Images | All Rights Reserved
2:56 PM EST, February 23, 2024

The first encounter with the Dinocephalosaurus orientalis fossil happened in Guizhou province in southern China, in 2003. Since then, several other specimens have been found. Now, scientists have decided to share their remarkable discoveries with the world. They unveiled the results of their research in the academic journal "Earth and Environmental Science: Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh".

Discovery of the "Chinese Dragon"

The specimen presented to the world is a culmination of seven different Dinocephalosaurus orientalis specimens. Studying these fossils revealed to researchers that the ancient reptile possessed unique attributes. "With 32 separate neck vertebrae, the Dinocephalosaurus orientalis had an extraordinarily long neck, akin to the neck of the Tanystropheus hydroides, another unique marine reptile from the middle Triassic period," shared the scientists. They believe both reptiles were of similar size, with substantially analogous skulls.

Yet, as scientists highlight, the Dinocephalosaurus distinguishes itself with the significantly larger count of vertebrae in its neck and torso, giving the creature a more serpentine appearance. Nick Fraser from the National Museums Scotland, a participant in the study, surmises that due to its unusual form, this discovery might quickly gain popularity. The ancient reptile bears a resemblance to the mythical Chinese dragon, depicted as a long, snake-like creature with large claws.

Experts have determined that, despite its aquatic lifestyle and elongated, slender neck, the "Chinese dragon" shares no close relation to the plesiosaurs, a species that evolved about 40 million years later.

As mentioned in the press release, the study on Dinocephalosaurus orientalis involved researchers from Scotland, Germany, the United States, and China. The experts examined the fossil over a span of ten years, at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.

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