BRISTOL, England, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- New paleontological evidence suggests the coast of South West England once teemed with tropical marine life -- exotic sharks, fish and reptiles.
The new insights into the region's ancient fauna come thanks to the analysis of Late Triassic sediments, rich with teeth and other fossil fragments.
In studying the teeth, scientists at the University of Bristol identified a variety of marine speces that once thrived in the shallow waters along the Somerset coast, at that time (200 million years ago) a tropical archipelago.
Among the species discovered were six bony fish and six species of shark. Analysis also revealed the presence of Pachystropheus rhaeticus, a prehistoric crocodile-like animal, as well as a placodont, an armored barrel-bodied reptile, appearing like a cross between an iguana and turtle. Placodonts feasted mostly on ancient mollusks, their flat teeth well-suited for crushing shells.
"We were excited to find teeth from a placodont, which are rare in British sediments," lead researcher Klara Norden said in a press release. "The presence of placodonts indicates that the area was once a coastal environment, with shallow waters and abundant invertebrate prey. Placodonts were in decline in the Late Triassic, and the placodont teeth from Marston Road must come from some of the last of these reptiles to exist on Earth."
Also found in the fossil-rich sediments were sphenodontians, small, lizard-like reptiles. The lizard shared the lands of the South West England with Thecodontosaurus, one of the first and oldest dinosaurs found in the region.
"It's really unusual to find remains of land-living animals mixed in with the marine fishes and sharks," said Michael Benton, a Bristol professor who supervised Norden's research. "They must have been washed off the land into the shallow sea, and this provides evidence to match the age of the marine and terrestrial deposits in the area."
The research was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Geologists' Association.