Exposing the Triassic: A 244-Million-Year-Old Marine Reptile Provides Light on the Evolution of Pachypleurosauroids

The fossil of a new species of marine reptile has been found by Chinese paleontologists in Luoping County, Yunnan Province, southwest China. The fossil dates back 244 million years. On Thursday, the study was released in the journal Scientific Reports.

The species, Luopingosaurus, is a sea reptile that resembles a lizard. With a mouth that is longer than half a meter and pointed, it is referred to as a pachypleurosaur.

The reptile’s long snout, which makes up more than half of its head, helped it grab food since it could significantly lessen resistance during aquatic chases, according to Shang Qinghua, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

The aquatic reptile Luopingosaurus holotype. /CFP

Shang continued, “The discovery offered fresh perspectives on the early evolution of the pachypleurosaur.”

The study found that the reptile’s forelegs had many phalanges, which increased the flexibility of its flippers when it changed course in the water. The find also included the earliest fossilized evidence of multiple-phalanged Sauropterygia.

The study also showed that while pachypleurosaurs’ capacity to grasp small fish and other prey lateral grasping abilities are gradually growing during the evolutionary process, the efficiency of swallowing after grasping is gradually declining.

Luoping was in a shallow sea environment during the Triassic Period, and the region’s middle Triassic fossil bank is known as the Luoping Biota. The Luoping Biota offers a fresh and early window on the recovery and radiation of Triassic maritime ecosystems, roughly 10 million years after the massive extinction at the end of the Permian period. The area was once home to invertebrates, fish, and a diversity of marine reptiles.

A pachypleurosaur named Keichousaurus was unearthed in 1957 and was the first named marine reptile to be found in China.

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