Researchers have published a new discovery of a fossil evidence that reveal the existence of a weird looking marine reptile, which is also believed to be the first known vegetarian marine reptile. Named as Atopodentatus Unicus, this species lived approximately 242 million years ago in southern China.
The two specimens of this marine animal fossils were discovered in China. The discovery has revealed more details about the species, its skull, eating habits and tooth structure. According to scientists, this crocodile-sized creature feed itself on underwater plants with the help of its hammer-shaped skull. There are only a few species (living or extinct) of marine reptiles are known to be herbivores.
Earlier in 2014, archaeologists first discovered the fossil of the same species. But the skull was poorly preserved that made scientists to believe that it had a downturned snout like a flamingo bird’s beak with sharp teeth inside a vertical zipper-like mouth. But the new discovery shed light on it and researchers changed their mind and the species turned from carnivore to herbivore in records. The beak was actually part of a hammerhead-shaped jaw apparatus.
Olivier Rieppel, Rowe Family Curator of Evolutionary Biology at The Field Museum in Chicago said in a statement:
“To figure out how the jaw fit together and how the animal actually fed, we bought some children’s clay, kind of like Play-Doh, and rebuilt it with toothpicks to represent the teeth. We looked at how the upper and lower jaw locked together, and that is how we proceeded and described it,” he added.
The bizarre jaw of Atopodentatus Unicus helped the animal to consume plants underwater. The front teeth helped to scrape plants on the rocks on the seafloor, later it opens up mouth to suck in the bits of plant. Later it closes the mouth and split the water back, during this time, its needle-like teeth were used as a sieve to trap the plant material inside the mouth to eat it.
Marine Reptile Was A Bizarre Animal
Dr Nick Fraser of National Museums Scotland, who worked on the fossil, said that the reptile was “a bizarre, bizarre animal. We envisage it scraping algae and the like off rocks underwater. Herbivorous marine reptiles are very rare – this is the oldest record that we know of.”
He added that this strange animal belonged in the pages of a children’s storybook by Dr Seuss, which depicts animals with a strange assortment of features.
The crocodile-like creature would have lived roughly 9 million years after the end-Permian extinction, a massive extinction event that takes about 90 percent of life in the seas and 70 percent of life on land, as reported by Los Angeles Times. How the life actually recovered after the fatal event has been relevant to researchers and the latest findings offers clues over the recovery period.