170-million-year-old Oldest-Known Mega-Predatory Pliosaur Identified by Paleontologists

Lorrainosaurus keileni lived in the Middle Jurassic seas, approximately 170 million years ago.

An artist’s impression of Lorrainosaurus keileni. Image credit: Joschua Knüppe.

Pliosaurs were a type of short-necked plesiosaur: marine reptiles built for speed compared to their long-necked cousins.

Also known as pliosauroids, these creatures were not dinosaurs, but distant cousins of modern turtles.

Pliosaurs had four large flippers, large heads, extremely powerful jaws and enormous teeth, and hunted fish, cephalopod mollusks and other marine reptiles.

They lived between 220 million years ago (Triassic period) and 70 million years ago (Cretaceous period) and were mostly found in the prehistoric seas that covered modern-day Europe.

“Famous examples, such as Pliosaurus and Kronosaurus — some of the world’s largest pliosaurs — were absolutely enormous with body-lengths exceeding 10 m,” said Dr. Benjamin Kear, a paleontologist with the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University.

“They were ecological equivalents of today’s killer whales and would have eaten a range of prey including squid-like cephalopods, large fish and other marine reptiles. These have all been found as preserved gut contents.”

Skeletal remains of the holotype of Lorrainosaurus keileni. Image credit: Sachs et al., doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-43015-y.

A partial skeleton of Lorrainosaurus keileni was excavated in 1983 in the Marnes de Gravelotte of Lorraine in northeastern France.

The find was made by paleontology enthusiasts from the Association minéralogique et paléontologique d’Hayange et des environs (AMPHE).

The fossils were later donated to the Musée national d’histoire naturelle de Luxembourg and identified as a species of the Callovian pliosaurid ‘Simolestes’ keileni.

In the new research, Dr. Kear and colleagues analyzed the fossils and identified them as a new pliosaur genus: Lorrainosaurus.

This giant reptile probably reached over 6 m from snout to tail, and lived during the early Middle Jurassic epoch, 170 million years ago.

The animal had jaws over 1.3 m long with large conical teeth and a bulky ‘torpedo-shaped’ body propelled by four flipper-like limbs.

Lorrainosaurus keileni was one of the first truly huge pliosaurs,” said Dr. Sven Sachs, a paleontologist at the Naturkunde-Museum Bielefeld.

“It gave rise to a dynasty of marine reptile mega-predators that ruled the oceans for around 80 million years.”

“Our identification of Lorrainosaurus keileni as one of the earliest mega-predatory pliosaurs demonstrates that these creatures emerged immediately after a landmark restructuring of marine predator ecosystems across the Early-to-Middle Jurassic boundary, some 175 to 171 million years ago,” said Dr. Daniel Madzia, a paleontologist at the Institute of Paleobiology of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

“This event profoundly affected many marine reptile groups and brought mega-predatory pliosaurids to dominance over ‘fish-like’ ichthyosaurs, ancient marine crocodile relatives, and other large-bodied predatory plesiosaurs.”

Lorrainosaurus keileni is thus a critical addition to our knowledge of ancient marine reptiles from a time in the Age of Dinosaurs that has as yet been incompletely understood,” Dr. Kear said.

Sia

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