Plesiosaurs are an extinct marine reptile. Members of the Order Plesiosauria, they are characterized by a broad flat body, short tail, long neck, small head and four large flippers or paddles. They are generally thought to have been fish eaters. Their fossils are found all over the world, often as complete skeletons, making them one of the best described organisms of the Jurassic Period. Their teeth are the most common fossils but vertebrae and other bones are also available.
Plesiosaurs were aquatic reptiles. They had small heads, long necks, broad, flattened bodies, short tails and large flippers or paddles. It is one of the best described groups of fossil animals with a total of 110 known species, many from complete or nearly complete fossils. The largest known is Elasmosaurus, 40 feet (12 m), the smallest was Thalassiodracon at just under 6 feet (1.5m).
When Did Plesiosaurs Live?
Plesiosaurs first appear in the fossil record near the end of the Triassic Period. Thalassiodracon is the oldest known from about 203 million years ago. It was about 6 feet long and showed all the characteristics of plesiosaurs.
Plesiosaurs were almost comical in their appearance; small head full of sharp, cylindrical teeth, wide, comparatively flat bodies, long necks, short tails and four large paddles or flippers. It was so odd looking that when originally found it was mistaken for a new kid of Pterosaur. Even when the first Plesiosaur went on display, it had its head mounted on the wrong end. It was mounted on the tail. Plesiosaur necks could have large numbers of vertebrae. Albertonectes had 72 vertebrae in its neck.
An artists reconstruction of Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus. By Dmitry Bogdanov Creative Commons License
What Did Plesiosaurs Eat?
It is widely held that plesiosaurs were not the fastest swimmers in the sea. It is likely that they ate a wide variety of fish, squid and other mollusks.
How Did Plesiosaur Move?
Plesiosaurs swam by moving their paddles or flippers in much the same way that modern sea turtles. This would have made them efficient and maneuverable but not particularly speedy.
Did Plesiosaurs Come Out Of The Water?
Due to their long, thin necks and flippers, it is unlikely that Plesiosaurs left the water. If they did, they would not have been able to travel far. It had long been thought that Plesiosaurs left the water to lay eggs in much the same way as modern sea turtle. Recent evidence seems to prove they bore live young. This would make leaving the water less likely.
Where Are Plesiosaur Fossils Found?
Plesiosaur fossils have been found worldwide. The first described fossil was found in Kansas. Since then they have been found on every continent. Most commercially available plesiosaur fossils come from Morocco and Kansas.
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