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Sep 11, 2013 05:55 AM EDT

Swedish Scientists Discover Fossil of 85-Million-Year-Old Marine Lizard

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Lund University-led research team in Jordan have discovered an 85-million-year-old fossilized skeleton of a marine reptile from rocks in central Jordan with part of its soft tissue preserved.

The unearthed specimen, Prognathodon-member of the mosasaur family, is claimed to have been a skilled hunter and as dangerous as a shark. The top underwater predator is believed to be using its unique tail fin to prey ranging on turtles and sharks too.

At the site of the discovery, archaeologists also found perfect outlines of its tail fin and flippers. The ancient marine lizard measured just five feet long and was young, when it died. If it had lived, it would have grown six times its size.

"The bones are generally in a pristine condition and retain their original three-dimensional shape, although some skeletal elements were fractured or lost during the excavation of the fossil; the latter are now represented by natural moulds," saidDr Johan Lindgren, of Lund University in Sweden.

"In addition, plant rootlets have penetrated and partially dissolved a string of vertebrae near the end of the tail. The exposed elements of the pectoral girdle and rib cage are somewhat disturbed and the latter structure has suffered slight crushing; otherwise, the skeleton is in nearly perfect articulation, preserving, for example, a virtually complete, hydrofoil-like forelimb surrounded by skin impressions."

The mosasaur Prognathodon, one of history's most terrifying predators, lived during the Cretaceous Period some 70 million years ago. Mosasaurs were extraordinary swimmers. They also adapted to living in the warm, shallow waters, which was common during the Late Cretaceous period.

"The findings in the present study on Prognathodon, along with recent previous work on the streamlined body shape, keeled scales and modified limbs provide compelling evidence derived mosasaurs were hydrodynamically advanced animals capable of high efficiency swimming. Moreover, the emerging evidence suggests aquatic adaptations evolved relatively quickly within the group, that is, within less than 10 million years," Lindgren said.

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