An ancient seaway once coursed through the snow-capped Talkeetna Mountains in Alaska, and in those days, a curious creature called the elasmosaur swam the oceans. Lucky for paleontologists, one of them come to rest in what is now a rocky cliff.
The fossilized bones of the elasmosaur were found by a man named Curvin Metzler, from Anchorage, Alaska, who spotted the bones eroding out of the cliff and called museum officials, Alaska Public Radio reported.
“I was really excited the first time Curvin showed me one of its bones,” said Pat Druckenmiller, earth sciences curator at the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North. “I recognized it as a vertebra from the base of the animal’s neck and wanted to visit the site to see if we could find more. Based on the size of the bones we excavated, the animal should be at least 25 feet long.”
The elasmosaur lived 70 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous period, sported paddle-like legs, which it used to swim underwater, and at more than 4,000 pounds, is the heaviest of his kind ever found in Alaska, Tech Times added.
But what’s most striking about the animals is its neck: long and graceful, it measures 46 feet in length.
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Naturally, this has drawn comparisons to the fabled Loch Ness monster, but that’s the best way to describe how the unusual creature looked when it roamed the ancient oceans of Alaska, Druckenmiller noted.
“Imagine an animal, maybe thirty feet long, with half of that length being its neck, and this long neck sticking out supporting a relatively small head at the end Although I’m a little loathe to use the comparison, if you think of the Loch Ness Monster — which is definitely a mythical animal — that mythical animal was basically based on the body plan of an elasmosaur.”
And the carnivorous creature is actually not a dinosaur at all; not only does it fail to meet many criteria to be classified as one, it never walked the earth, sticking exclusively to the seas. Technically, the elasmosaur is a plesiosaur — or a marine reptile. It’s the first of its kind ever discovered in Alaska and has the longest neck of any other plesiosaur, Forbes noted.
So what exactly is the purpose of such a long and glorious neck? Right now, scientists have no idea and can’t agree on one theory. But it had to have given the elasmosaur some advantage, and one theory is that it facilitated feeding.
Druckentmiller prefers a sexier explanation.
“One idea I like, actually, is that sometimes animals have very strange anatomy because they use them for sexual selection, in other words showing off to potential mates, and species recognition. So that’s also a possibility.”
This elasmosaur’s bones are still buried in the mountains of Alaska, and scientists will work to fully unearth him next summer.
[Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons]