A group of paleontologists from the University of La Matanza have discovered a 150-million-year-old plesiosaur under Antarctica’s frozen ice.
Plesiosaurs are giant, extinct marine carnivores that once hunted in waters all across the Earth . They had four fins, a small head, and a long, streamlined neck. The specimen found in the study measures 12 feet long and existed during the Jurassic period. It is also the oldest fossil ever found on Antarctica.
“This record of plesiosaurus is 80 million years older than what was known for Antarctica,” said lead author José Patricio O’Gorman, a researcher at the Museo de la Plata (MLP), according to International Business Times. “It was the first paleontological campaign that we carried out in this outcrop that is like a frozen sea of 150 million years in an excellent state of conservation.”
The team found the remains at a remote site that is a two-hour helicopter journey from Argentina’s Marambio Base on the tip of Antarctica. The finding is surprising because Antarctica’s harsh climate does not normally preserve ancient remains.
Recent studies have shown that plesiosaurs were unique creatures that could fly through the water in the same way penguins and turtles do. The oldest known species lived roughly 201 million years ago during the Triassic period, and scientists hope the specimen found in the recent study will shed more light on the ancient creatures. As fossils are so rare in Antarctica, this could give a glimpse into what the region looked like millions of years ago.
“At this site, you can find a great diversity of fish, ammonites, some bivalves, but we did not expect to find such an ancient plesiosaur,” said paleontologist Soledad Cavalli, who is based at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina, according to Newsweek. “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.”
A study detailing the discovery is set to be published in the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol.