EntertainmentScottish scientists unearth complete skeleton of "dragon-like" Triassic marine reptile

Scottish scientists unearth complete skeleton of "dragon-like" Triassic marine reptile

Scientists discovered a reptile resembling a dragon.
Scientists discovered a reptile resembling a dragon.
Images source: © Canva | canva
1:44 PM EST, February 23, 2024

The fantasy of crossing paths with a dragon might be turning into reality for many, assuming, of course, your definition of a "dragon" is a reptile from the earliest period of the Mesozoic era, and "encounter" refers to viewing a picture or, at best, a museum display. The Scottish scientists have unearthed the complete skeleton of a marine reptile known as Dinocephalosaurus orientalis.

A dragon or a marine reptile?

It was back in 2003 when scientists studying fossils and uncovering ancient life on Earth first stumbled across traces of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis. The reptile was named then, but the skeletal remains discovered over twenty years ago were incomplete. Now, however, an international team of researchers has uncovered the entire skeleton of this marine creature, which once inhabited the waters around what is now China. The fossil was located in eastern China's Guizhou province.

A marine monster measuring seventeen feet

The discovered reptile prided itself in having up to 32 cervical vertebrae, leading to an extraordinarily elongated neck. This trait is what prompts associations with dragons, which are also known for their long necks. This feature, however, also reminds scientists of the Tanystropheus hydroides, another marine reptile that lived in the region that is present-day China and Europe.

This is what the mysterious "dragon" was supposed to look like.
This is what the mysterious "dragon" was supposed to look like.© Press materials | Marlene Donelly

The jaw of the Dinocephalosaurus orientalis functioned as a trap, capturing fish and other organisms, a characteristic it shares with the Tanystropheus hydroides. However, the Dinocephalosaurus had a significantly longer neck, giving it a snake-like appearance. Analysis of the fossilized creature's stomach contents revealed fish skeletons, suggesting a predilection for fish in its diet. This "dragon" also possessed appendages that resembled fins. Despite physical similarities, Dinocephalosaurus orientalis isn't closely related to Plesiosaurus, the creature that inspired the Loch Ness Monster legend.

Researchers express excitement about the discovery

Dr. Nick Fraser FRSE, Director of Natural Sciences at the National Museums of Scotland, said in a press release: "This discovery lets us behold this incredibly long-necked creature in full for the first time. It's just another testament to the exotic and awe-inspiring world of the Triassic, which constantly astounds paleontologists. We believe this specimen, due to its striking resemblance to the long, serpentine, mythical Chinese dragon, is sure to spark interest worldwide."

The "dragon" skeleton looks impressive.
The "dragon" skeleton looks impressive.© Press materials | Materiały prasowe

Professor Li Chun from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology said in a press statement: "The project was an international effort. In collaboration with colleagues from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, we used newly discovered specimens stored in the Chinese Academy of Sciences to broaden our understanding of this species. Among all the remarkable discoveries we've made in the Triassic of Guizhou province, Dinocephalosaurus surely takes the cake for being the most exceptional."

Dr. Stephan Spiekman, a researcher from the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart, wrote: "Contributing to these significant discoveries as an early-career researcher was an incredible experience. We hope that our future research will aid us in understanding more about the evolution of this group of animals, particularly, how the elongated neck functioned."

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