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Ancient reptile rises from Alberta oil sands
Date:3/20/2008

One of the oldest and most complete plesiosaur fossils recovered in North America, and the oldest yet discovered from the Cretaceous Period, represents a new genus of the prehistoric aquatic predator according to University of Calgary palaeontologists who have formally described the creature after its remains were uncovered in a Syncrude Canada Ltd. mine near Fort McMurray in 1994.

In a paper published in the current issue of the German research journal Palaeontographica Abteilung A, former U of C graduate student Patrick Druckenmiller and biological sciences professor Anthony Russell have named the 2.6-metre-long plesiosaur Nichollsia borealis in memory of the late Elizabeth (Betsy) Nicholls. Nicholls was a renowned palaeontologist and U of C alumna who is credited with transforming the understanding of prehistoric ocean life by describing the largest-ever marine reptile, a 23-metre-long ichthyosaur, discovered in northern British Columbia in 1999.

We chose this name because Betsy was a key player in the study of marine reptiles, a mentor to me, a former student of Tony, and a great person, said Druckenmiller, who is now Curator of Earth Sciences at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. We felt it was a fitting way to honour both her memory and her accomplishments in palaeontology.

Nicholls was the Curator of Marine Reptiles at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller (1990-2004) and earned her MSc and PhD degrees at U of C. She passed away in 2004. Her husband Jim Nicholls, a retired U of C geoscience professor, said his family is touched by the decision to name the genus in Betsys memory.

This is a great tribute because Betsy worked on many of the fossils recovered by Syncrude over the years and this specimen is a direct result of the connection she had with the company for many years, Nicholls said. We are very proud that her work will be remembered in the scientific record in this way.

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Contact: Grady Semmens
gsemmens@ucalgary.ca
403-220-7722
University of Calgary
Source:Eurekalert

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