Long-necked dinosaur adapted for aquatic life

The Tanystropheus dinosaur ambushed fish and squid using its long neck. Emma Finley-Jacob: University of Zurich

Swiss paleontologists have solved a 242-million-year puzzle of the mysterious Tanystropheus dinosaur, whose extra-long neck has previously baffled experts. Advanced scanning techniques have shown the creature was adapted to the water rather than land.

This content was published on August 8, 2020 - 15:59

Experts have been puzzling over the exact role of the Tanystropheus’s elongated neck, which was as long as its body and tail combined. Some theorised that the feature could have given the dinosaur access to tree foliage, much as today’s giraffe.

But a team from the University of Zurich says it has proof that the dinosaur was a water dwelling ambush hunter. They found this by examining skull remains using a scanning tool known as synchrotron radiation micro-computed tomography. This allowed them to precisely recreate a complete 3D visualisation of the skull from the fragments.

The scans revealed features of adaptation to the water, such a nostrils located at the top of the skull and curved teeth designed to catch slimy creatures like fish. The length of the neck is believed to have allowed Tanystropheus to better ambush its prey.

"He probably hunted by swimming slowly through murky water and secretly approaching his prey," said lead author of the study and University of Zurich paleontologist Stephen Spiekman in a statement. "His small head and very long neck helped him stay hidden for as long as possible."

The team also identified two separate species of the dinosaur; a larger one that hunted fish and squid and a smaller version that likely ate shellfish and crabs.

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