Paleontologists have uncovered the dramatic fossilized bones of a 30-foot underwater lizard in Texas.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science paleontologists unearthed the fossil of a mosasaur last month near a river in northern Texas, according to The Dallas Morning News. Mosasaurs lived alongside dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period but were not dinosaurs themselves, with their extinct group instead being closely related to still-living snakes and monitor lizards that include the 10-foot Komodo dragon.
Excavations of the mosasaur’s fossilized oversized skull, lower jawbones and vertebrae reportedly began in mid-July after amateur enthusiast Stephen Kruse discovered part of the spine near the North Sulphur River. Kruse told Dallas Morning News that the fossil was “just sitting there, coming right out of the wall” after he turned a corner while walking near the river.
The paleontologists used a variety of tools including shovels, picks, probes and paintbrushes to delicately remove the fossil from clay-like rock in the riverbed. Glue was also placed inside bone cracks to prevent the fossil from disintegrating when removed. The entire process reportedly took six days.
“It’s like a puzzle: The whole time you’re working, you never know where it’s going to lead,” Perot museum paleobotany curator Dory Contreras told Dallas Morning News. “And so, as you dig further back, you discover more, you find more.”
The museum team has not finished excavating the entire fossil and expects to return to the riverbed to finish the project this fall. The fossil-rich North Sulphur River has also been the site of previous mosasaur discoveries.
The mosasaur, a version of which has been briefly featured in multiple Jurassic World movies, was an aggressive, carnivorous lizard that could be compared to modern apex predators like great white sharks or killer whales.
Although aquatic, mosasaurs breathed air and needed to sometimes surface to draw breath like whales or sea turtles. Their diet consisted largely of marine life that included turtles, fish, sea birds and large plesiosaur reptiles.
Dr. Ron Tykoski, the Perot museum’s director of paleontology, told Dallas Fox station KDFW that much of Texas was a “wonderful place” for large marine predators like the mosasaur when the fossil that they recovered was alive.
“It would have been beautiful, warm, almost tropical oceans and seas filled with fish and reptiles and clams and oysters and sea life and things like that,” said Tykoski. “It was a wonderful place to live if you were a big, hungry, predatory reptile.”
Mosasaurs went extinct during the same mass extinction event that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs roughly 66 million years ago. The general consensus among scientists is that the damage from a massive asteroid triggered the extinction, devastating the environment with a long harsh winter, which stymied photosynthesis and obliterated food sources.
Newsweek has reached out to the Paleontological Society for comment.
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