Mosasaurs used their Bony Noses to Strike Prey

Mosasaurs used their Bony Noses to Strike Prey

The youngest-ever specimen of Mosasaurs reveals that they resembled killer whales when it comes to prey.

All the fans of the movie ‘Jurassic World’ could easily relate to Mosasaurs, an enormous marine reptile that lived more than 65 million years ago. Orcas offer the most suitable option to understand this massive creature following a number of similarities. Mosasaurs had sharp teeth, powerful tails, and flippers. Similarly, they were the predators of the seas and the only thing they had to fear was bigger Mosasaurs.

Researchers from the University of Chicago examined the youngest-ever specimen of Mosasaurs and found that they might have a strange similarity with the modern day killer whales. Takuya Konishi, a Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago, analyzed a newborn fossil for his study and observed that these prehistoric sea creatures used their bony snouts to pacify the prey. He explained that this trait is common in killer whales nowadays by saying,

Killer whales don’t hunt big prey by biting. They hunt by ramming and tearing them apart after the prey is weak. They are chasing fast-moving animals so they use inertia. If they were swimming full speed at you, they would generate a lot of force. And their snout is conspicuously protruding.”

Konishi will present his findings at the October’s Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference in New Mexico. Prior to the latest analysis, he did examine these fossils during his Master’s Degree in 2004. Michael Everhart, a Paleontologist, discovered nearly 20 small fragments of the skull from a rock formation called Kansas Chalk. This place is quite famous for its marine fossils. After completing the Initial inspection, researchers announced that the specimen belonged to a species called Platecarpus which was quite common in these parts 85 million years ago. This species belonged to the Mosasauridae family which has more than 30 genera of species. Consequently, it becomes incredibly difficult to accurately identify a specimen from a handful of fossils. Konishi talked about that and said,

A colleague of mine told me mosasaurs are boring because they all look the same. That’s sort of true. But once you know more about them you can begin to tell them apart.”

Konishi decided to have another look at this specimen after realizing that Quadrates, a type of bone, is not very reliable in determining the species of a specimen. The fact that his skills have improved greatly in the past 14 years allowed him to distinguish the newborn fossils from other specimens of Platecarpus. The teeth of some mosasaurs including Platecarpus begin virtually at the top of their snouts. Contrary to that, Tylosaurus have a rostrum, a bony protrusion, which extends out of their face. It might have served as a protection for the front teeth when the creature slammed into its prey. Konishi elaborated his findings in the following words:

It’s a subtle feature perhaps by horned dinosaur standards, but for us, it really signifies what kind of mosasaur you’re looking at. If you have this protruding snout in this part of western Kansas, you’re a Tylosaurus. The degree of snout development was nowhere near that of an adult, which made me look elsewhere such as the braincase to call it Tylosaurus in the end. It was the ugly duckling that hadn’t yet become the graceful swan.”

Konishi took help from a dramatic photo to explain his point that the facial bones of Tylosaurus are more robust and broader than other types of mosasaurs. The image showed a breaching orca which smashed into a large dolphin with its snout. The false killer whale was struck so hard that its body was contorted at an extremely painful angle. He said,

When orcas hunt dolphins and small whales, they subdue them by ramming them. And when you look at them, you see they have a protruding snout as well.”

This discovery is amazing in itself as finding a fossil of a baby marine reptile is quite a rare incident. The reason for this is quite obvious: the larger animals feed on these babies. Everhart confirmed that the baby mosasaur was found alone and there were no associated fossils around it. As we know that mosasaurs give birth instead of laying eggs, it can be concluded that this specimen was a free-swimming newborn rather an embryo at the time of its death.

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