Ancient 'sea monsters' had oars for hands

"By punting along like this, the nothosaur flushed these edible morsels out and snapped them up," Qi-yue Zhang said.
By Brooks Hays  |  June 11, 2014 at 7:33 PM
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CHENGDU, China, June 11 (UPI) -- Nothosaurs were strange-looking long-necked creatures that lived during the Triassic period, about about 245 million years ago. They resembled a cross between a sea turtle and a dinosaur.

And now, new fossilized nothosaur tracks in China suggest the ancient predators trolled the ocean floor using a paddling motion with their oar-like limbs. The motion not only propelled the animal through the water but stirred up the floor and all its edible goodies -- the two-in-one motion allowing the sea creature to scoop up and gobble down its prey while scuttling along from point A to point B.

The tracks were discovered by Qi-yue Zhang, a researcher at the Chengdu Center of the China Geological Survey. Zhang was mapping geological features in China's Yunnan province, when he came a long a series of prints lining a ledge.

"By punting along like this, the nothosaur flushed these edible morsels out and snapped them up," Zhang said.

Zhang's colleagues excavated the surrounding area and exposed 350 more of similar neatly preserved prints. The track marks formed 15 different pathways, some of which looped in a circle.

To bring the picture full-circle, the researchers employed airborne lasers to scan the area and map out the entirety of the tracks. Further analysis revealed that the animals is question were a specific species of nothosaur called a lariosaur.

Scientists also determined that the creatures likely only paddled with their two front limbs, leaving their body floating behind, making sure not to drag it along the ground.

The paddle prints study was published this week in the journal Nature.

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