Scientists in Argentina have discovered the remains of a 150-million-year-old marine reptile from the Jurassic Period in Antarctica.
Pleiosaurs have captured imaginations since the species was discovered in the 1700s. [Image by Dmitry Bogdanov]
The sea creature was actually a plesiosaur, a species known to look like the fabled Loch Ness Monster. Unlike the Loch Ness Monster, however, plesiosaurs were very much real. Plesiosaurs had a long neck, a large body, and four powerful flippers. This one was found at the tip of Antarctica, the first of its species as well as the most ancient creature to be found on the icy continent.
Antarctica was part of the supercontinent of Gondwana during the time that the plesiosaur was swimming around the oceans of the world. Gondwana was once made up of Africa, Antarctica, Australia, India, Madagascar, New Zealand, and South America. Researchers say that the site where the plesiosaur remains were found were rich in fish, bivalves, and ammonites, but plesiosaurs weren’t something that scientists expected to find.
The fossilized remains of the oldest known plesiosaur to date [Photo by Georg Oleschinski]
Thus, the fact that the remains themselves were found in that site is remarkable in itself. "The discovery is pretty extraordinary, because the rock types at the site weren't thought conducive to the preservation of bones, like the vertebrae of this marine reptile," says paleontologist Soledad Cavalli.
The reconstructed remains of a plesiosaur [Photo by Kim Alaniz]
Researchers had to take a helicopter from Argentina’s Marambio base to get to the edge of Antarctica, where they found the bones of the ancient creature. Dr. José O'Gorman, one of the researchers, says that no one has stepped foot in that area for 23 years. "It is the furthest place we have come from with vertebrate paleontology campaigns in Antarctica," Cavalli said. "The Argentine campaigns are usually carried out in the vicinity of the Marambio Base, but here we have widened the range of action and we are interested in going to places even further away."
The remains of the plesiosaur, in spite of being over a hundred million years old, were found in perfect condition. They were at the bottom of the ocean, hidden away in a spot where there isn’t enough oxygen for other organisms to live. As a result, the remains didn’t putrefy and weren’t disturbed by other marine creatures. Thus, the researchers were able to make a remarkable, groundbreaking discovery.
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