One of the ocean's most formidable marine predators, the marine mosasaur Platecarpus, lived in the Cretaceous Period some 85 million years ago and was thought to have swum like an eel. That theory is debunked in a new paper published today in the journal PLoS ONE. An international team of scientists have reconceived the animal's morphology, or body plan, based on a spectacular specimen housed at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
The paper was co-authored by a team of four scientists: Johan Lindgren (Lund University, Lund, Sweden), Michael W. Caldwell, Takuya Konishi (University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), and Luis M. Chiappe, Director of the Natural History Museum's Dinosaur Institute.
The mosasaur specimen was discovered in Kansas in 1969, and acquired by the NHM shortly thereafter. It contains four slabs, which make up a virtually complete, 20-foot specimen. Dr. Chiappe spurred a modern preparation of the specimen, and assembled the paper's research team. "It is one of several exceptional fossils that will be featured in Dinosaur Mysteries," said Chiappe, curator of the 15,000-square foot landmark exhibition that opens at the museum in 2011.
In the meantime, the fossil will be temporarily on display at the museum's Dino Lab, a working lab located on the second floor of the museum, where paleontologists prepare fossils in full view of the public.
The specimen is "the finest preserved mosasaur in existence," according to Dr. Johan Lindgren, lead author of the published study. It retains traces of a partial body outline, putative skin color markings, external scales, a downturned tail, branching bronchial tubes, and stomach contents (fish).
Using it, the scientists demonstrate that a streamlined body plan and crescent-shaped tail fin were already well established in Platecarpus, and that these key features evolved very early in the evolution of mosasaurs. Noting t
|Contact: Kristin Friedrich|
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County