Plesiosaurus has stunned scientists with its penguin-like motions, as it was finally determined how this long-extinct species of dinosaur managed to swim through the ocean.
Experts at Georgia Institute of Technology and Nottingham Natural History Museum-Wollaton Hall sought to investigate the means of locomotion employed by Meyerasaurus, one of the members of the family Rhomaleosauridae, from the order known as Plesiosauria.
Speculation had been rife regarding the ways in which plesiosaurs managed to move through the water, ever since this species was first documented almost 2 centuries ago, back in 1824.
The long-necked dinosaurs ruled the seas from around 200 million years ago up until the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction which occurred 66 million years ago, and brought an end to around three quarters of all the species on Earth.
While all varieties of plesiosaur had in common the fact that they relied on squid and fish for their sustenance, they greatly different in size and appearance, Elasmosaurus for instance reaching up to 46 feet, dwarfing Meyerausurus which was just around 11 feet in length.
The Loch Ness monster (nicknamed Nessie) which is believed by some to inhabit a lake located in the Scottish Highlands, is frequently depicted as a plesiosarus, so this species of dinosaur has spurred the imagination and interest of many.
Now, researchers believe they may have found the way in which these giant reptiles carried out one of their vital activities: swimming.
By analyzing a Meyerasaurus fossil found in Germany and dating back to 180 million years ago, it was possible to create a computer model which accurately reflected the dinosaur’s anatomical features.
Afterwards, different sets of motion were tested, in order to identify the one that appeared to be the most natural and effective, based on the premise that this was also the one that the ancient species actually relied on.
It was determined that Meyerasaurus probably moved through water just like a sea turtle or a penguin, mostly by using its well-developed front limbs.
Basically, just by flailing its foremost flippers up and down, the prehistoric reptile was able to propel itself, even reaching high velocities.
As explained by Greg Turk, computer science professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and study co-author, the most surprising find was that the rear flippers served no purpose in allowing the plesiosaur to advance through water.
Instead, the role of these hindmost members was probably to allow the marine species to keep its balance and to change its direction with precision and accuracy.
Kenneth Carpenter, researcher at Utah State University Eastern, contests this idea however, claiming that the limbs were too large for steering, but were ideal for allowing the marine animal to stop in its tracks, while hunting for quarry.
Regardless of the actual purpose of the flippers, this type of locomotion is actually extremely unusual and astounding, especially when considering the fact that the vast majority of whales and fish depend on their tails so as to advance through the waves.
While previously researchers had ventured to suggest that plesiosaurs probably employed movements reminiscent of those required by rowing, now it appears that what was thought to be a back and forth motion was actually an array of up and down flappings, much more similar to flying.
Details related to this discovery have been presented in a study published in the current issue of the journal PLOS Computational Biology.
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