Meet Snakey McCrocface! Sea beast with long neck and crocodile jaws swam in the oceans 70 million years ago

A strange prehistoric sea beast with a neck longer than that of a giraffe and a head resembling a crocodile has been discovered 70 million years after it stalked the oceans.

The skeleton of the 23-foot creature was discovered in the Pierre Shale in the US state of Wyoming, where there was once a huge inland sea.

Now the predator, whose name Serpentisuchops literally translates to ‘snake crocodile face’, has been documented by scientists for the first time.

Scott Persons, the lead author of the new study and a professor of geology at the University of Charleston, painted a strange picture when describing the creature’s appearance.

“Imagine a lizard the size of a cow,” he said.

“Now, replace its legs with flippers, stretch its neck out eight feet, and give it a long, narrow mouth, like a crocodile’s.”

A strange prehistoric sea beast with a neck longer than that of a giraffe and a head resembling that of a crocodile has been discovered 70 million years after it stalked the oceans.

A strange prehistoric sea beast with a neck longer than that of a giraffe and a head resembling that of a crocodile has been discovered 70 million years after it stalked the oceans.

The predator, whose name Serpentisuchops literally translates to 'snake crocodile face', has been documented by scientists for the first time.

The predator, whose name Serpentisuchops literally translates to 'snake crocodile face', has been documented by scientists for the first time.

The predator, whose name Serpentisuchops literally translates to ‘snake crocodile face’, has been documented by scientists for the first time.

The skeleton of the 23-foot creature was discovered in the Pierre Shale in the US state of Wyoming, where there was once a huge inland sea.

The skeleton of the 23-foot creature was discovered in the Pierre Shale in the US state of Wyoming, where there was once a huge inland sea.

The skeleton of the 23-foot creature was discovered in the Pierre Shale in the US state of Wyoming, where there was once a huge inland sea.

Plesiosaur was first discovered 200 years ago

The first complete skeleton of a plesiosaur was found by English fossil hunter Mary Anning at Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1823.

The prehistoric reptile had a small head, a long neck, and four long flippers.

It was named ‘almost lizard’, because it more closely resembles modern reptiles than the ichthyosaur, which had been found in the same rock strata a few years earlier.

It lived from the late Triassic period to the late Cretaceous period, around 215 million to 66 million years ago, before being wiped out by the dinosaurs.

Plesiosaurs inspired reconstructions of the Loch Ness Monster, but were traditionally thought to be sea creatures.

It’s a description that might bring to mind plesiosaurs, the prehistoric sea beast often taken as a model for the mythical Loch Ness Monster.

But even among these, Serpentisuchops pfisterae is an oddball.

Dr Persons said: “As a student I was taught that all late-evolving plesiosaurs fall into one of two anatomical categories.

“There are those with very long necks and small heads, and those with short necks and very long jaws.

‘Well, our new animal totally confuses those categories.

“This new animal has a long crocodile-like snout and a long neck with 32 vertebrae.

‘By comparison, your own neck has only seven vertebrae.’

At over eight feet long, it’s a neck that dwarfs even that of the mighty giraffe at eight feet.

And in the teeming prehistoric sea that once covered much of modern North America, it may have provided an evolutionary advantage over the competition.

“The long, slender jaws and long, flexible neck were probably adaptations for rapidly slamming sideways through the water,” Dr Persons said.

“It would have been exceptional for catching small but fast swimming fish.”

So strange is the creature, that scientists are now being urged to revisit already-documented plesiosaurs.

The long, slender jaws and long, flexible neck were probably adaptations for quickly slamming sideways through the water.

The long, slender jaws and long, flexible neck were probably adaptations for quickly slamming sideways through the water.

The long, slender jaws and long, flexible neck were probably adaptations for quickly slamming sideways through the water.

When the animal died, its body sank to the bottom of the sea where it was buried by fine sediment for 70 million years.  In the photo: Scott Persons with the fossil

When the animal died, its body sank to the bottom of the sea where it was buried by fine sediment for 70 million years.  In the photo: Scott Persons with the fossil

When the animal died, its body sank to the bottom of the sea where it was buried by fine sediment for 70 million years. In the photo: Scott Persons with the fossil

The creature was unearthed in 1995 on land belonging to Anna Pfister (pictured), who is honored in the second part of the creature's biological name, pfisterae.

The creature was unearthed in 1995 on land belonging to Anna Pfister (pictured), who is honored in the second part of the creature's biological name, pfisterae.

The creature was unearthed in 1995 on land belonging to Anna Pfister (pictured), who is honored in the second part of the creature’s biological name, pfisterae.

Dr Persons said: “Paleontologists have generally assumed that if a plesiosaur has long jaws, then it must also have a short neck.”

Serpentisuchops shows that this assumption is not necessarily true.

“We have to be careful and now need to reassess several older plesiosaur species to make sure that the neck size of these animals has not been underestimated.”

The study was aided by the remarkable preservation of the neck skeleton.

This was possible because, when the animal died, its body sank to the bottom of the sea, where it was buried by fine sediments for 70 million years.

It was only discovered in 1995 on land belonging to Anna Pfister, who is honored in the second part of the creature’s biological name, pfisterae.

Since then, it has been at the Glenrock Paleon Museum, where a team of volunteers has been carving out the rock that embeds the bones.

It was not until the present study, published in the journal iSciencethat was scientifically documented.

HOW DID PLESIOSAURS SWIMM?

Plesiosaurs used two pairs of almost identical flippers to propel themselves through the water.

Both sets of fins provided propulsive power, the new study suggests.

In contrast, other animals, such as turtles and sea lions, use their front flippers to propel themselves and their back flippers to orient themselves.

The team found that the spinning motions in the water created by the plesiosaur’s front flippers increased the thrust of the rear flippers by 60 percent and their efficiency by 40 percent.

Compared to other marine reptiles, they had a short tail that was only used for steering.

Long-extinct paddle saurians could easily have defended themselves against aquatic animals today.

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