Chinese Scientists Discover Fossil of New Marine Reptile With ‘Incredibly Long’ Tail
BEIJING — Chinese scientists on Wednesday discovered a 244 million-year-old fossil of a new species of marine reptile known as the pachypleurosaurus, with the longest tail ever seen for its species, indicating it may have was an exceptional swimmer. Pachypleurosaurs were a group of small to medium-sized lizard-like marine reptiles from the early to middle Triassic, and the new species was named Honghesaurus after the Honghe Hani find site and Yi Autonomous Prefecture. At 25.4 cm, the tail was more than half the length of the creature, estimated at 47.1 cm.
Scientists found it had a total of 121 vertebrae, including 69 caudal or caudal vertebrae, breaking the previous record of 58 tail vertebrae in other pachypleurosaurs. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology discovered the fossil in southwest China’s Yunnan province last year.
“It had the shape of an aquatic lizard with a long trunk, but its very long tail was much longer than other parts of its body,” said lead researcher Xu Guanghui.
Most pachypleurosaurs were small with a maximum length rarely exceeding 50 cm. The long trunk paired with an incredibly long tail could provide the reptile with the advantage of maneuverability and swimming power efficiency, Xu noted in the study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports last week.
Besides providing new insights into the ecological adaptation of this group of reptiles, the find was also the oldest fossil evidence of pachypleurosaurid marine reptile species in China.
The first named marine reptile discovered in China was also a pachypleurosaurus, namely Keichousaurus, discovered in 1957. Co-author Zhao Lijun, a researcher at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, said the long-tailed Honghesaurus is 4 million years old. older than Keichousaurus, and more closely related to pachypleurosaurids found in Europe, representing the oldest record of this family in China.