A discovery made in Alberta, Canada, in 2007 is wowing plesiosaur fanatics. Plesiosaurs, for those who don’t know, were prehistoric marine reptiles with large flat bodies, two pairs of flippers, and a characteristically long neck. The Alberta finding was a 70-million-year-old plesiosaur body sans head. The most exciting feature? A 23-foot-long neck consisting of 76 vertebrae. To put this in perspective, humans and most other mammals have only seven vertebrae. The longest plesiosaur neck prior to this discovery consisted of 71 vertebrae. This 37-foot-long sea monster has been dubbed Albertonectes vanderveldei; Albertonectes means “Alberta swimmer,” and vanderveldei honors Ren Vandervelde, who founded the mine from which the fossils were extracted. Though Albertonectes’ neck was approximately as long as a stretch limo, it wasn’t flexible. It’s neck was found in pieces, suggesting that when its body fell to the sea floor, the neck did not coil but due to its rigidity, broke into fragments instead. Tai Kubo, Mark Mitchell, and Donald Henderson, who conducted the study on the fossils, added that each vertebra shows a lack of flexibility. Paleontologists are excited to have another addition to the ever-growing plesiosaur fossil collection. Whereas Albertonectes is helping researchers discover more about neck movement and body structure, another recent finding is providing clues into the birthing habits of plesiosaurs. A 78-million-year-old female plesiosaur, this one much smaller than Albertonectes at around 15 feet, was found with a fetus inside its body, indicating that plesiosaurs gave birth to live young. Although paleontologists aren’t certain whether all plesiosaurs gave birth this way, further study on Albertonectes could provide insight.

Find out more at Wired.com.

The study on Albertonectes is published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Read about plesiosaur live birth at Discovery.com.

Published On: July 5, 2012

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