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Scientists finally know how ancient reptiles lived with such absurd long necks



Use toffee to make a crocodile. Grab its head and pull it until its neck protrudes a few meters from the body.If you have eyes, this may be what a strange-looking Triassic reptile said tetanus look like. more or less.

This ridiculously long fossilized cervical animal species has puzzled paleontologists for nearly 170 years. By using CT scans to disassemble the broken skulls of the reptile’s remains, the researchers finally solved some annoying problems surrounding this strange animal in August last year.

specimen tetanus It can reach a length of more than 5 meters (16 feet), its tail accounts for about one-third of its length, and its body accounts for about a quarter. The rest are all necks.

Dan body muscle size compared to humansCompared with humans, the size of the trapezius muscle. (Spiekman et al., “Contemporary Biology”, 2020)

tetanus It looks like an alligator with a long neck,” said Olivier Rieppel, a paleontologist from the Field Museum in Chicago.

Why this reptile has evolved such a large size is a complete mystery. No one can figure out whether it was submerged in water or hacked on land. This fact makes it difficult to draw conclusions.

Its weird part is the shape of the neck bone.Unlike snakes or lizards, the cervical spine tetanus The fossil stretched out like a giraffe. In fact, when its remains were first discovered in 1852, these scattered bones were thought to be the slender wing-like bones of flying pterosaurs.

Not all of us unearthed were the size of a crocodile. The numbers are much smaller, prompting paleontologists to question whether some of the specimens in their archives are juveniles or represent completely different species.

This is a common problem in paleontology-the miniature fossils of dwarf species can almost be the same as the immature bones of larvae. Separating them requires finding clues about whether the bones have not yet reached their full size or still need to be increased.

Fortunately, these clues can be found inside the fossil. Just as the rings on the trunks of trees show their age records, bones can do the same thing.

In order to find these, Rieppel and his colleagues used X-rays to tetanus The bones are converted into 3D models through high-resolution computed tomography (CT) technology.

Stephen Speakman, an expert on the evolution of Triassic reptiles at the University of Zurich, said: “The power of CT scans allows us to see details of fossils that would otherwise be impossible to observe.”

Annual rings show smaller tetanus The corpse does indeed belong to an adult, which clearly shows that the researchers have two separate species.

To distinguish them, the team named the larger one T. Hydride, Second only to the Hydra in Greek mythology.Its smaller cousin retains the original species name T longobardico.

Converting the scan results into a digital model also provides researchers with a way to rearrange the squeezed bones into a clearer configuration, making it much easier to make good observations of all the anatomical structures of the organism.

Speakman said: “With a strongly crushed skull, we are able to reconstruct an almost complete 3D skull, revealing key morphological details.”

All the bone fragments are put in place and look like tetanus After all, it will be very comfortable in the water.

The nostrils of the reptile’s skull stand tall, like the nose of a crocodile-ambush the predator to keep the lungs full of air while waiting for a meal.

(Spiekman et al., Current Biology, 2020)(Spiekman et al., Current Biology, 2020)

The chaotic tines can also be seen, forming a fairly effective trap for trapping cephalopods, at least for extra-large species.

“Compared with the fish and squid eaten by large fish, small fish may feed on small shelled animals such as shrimp,” Speakman said.

“This is really amazing, because we are looking forward to weird necks tetanus Dedicated to a single task, such as the neck of a giraffe. But in fact, it allows several lifestyles. This completely changed the way we look at this animal. “

Fossil mysteryIllustration display T. Hydride hunt. (Emma Finley Jacobs)

These two very similar species have different ways of using their long bodies, which makes it easier for them to exist in the same habitat and share the environment without competing for the same food source.

We can almost imagine the animal’s short-footed shape, which looks like a crocodile lying on a shallow coastline about 242 million years ago. Its head is raised high to the surface of the water, so its nostrils can siphon air, and its bristly mouth is slightly smaller. Open backwards. A lost squid.

As seen at the scene, tetanus Still a weird creature.

This research is published in Current biology.

The version of this article was first published in August 2020.


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