“Sea Monster” Fetus Found—Proof Plesiosaurs Had Live Young?
Prehistoric reptiles gave birth to live young, fossil suggests.
Like whales, humans, and most other mammals, plesiosaurs—giant, long-necked marinereptiles of dinosaur times—gave birth to live young, a new fossil study suggests.
Even as it apparently solves one mystery, though, the finding raises another: Did the “sea monsters” swim in mother-child pairs or even in larger groups, like modern whales and dolphins?
The study focused on a 78-million-year-old, 15.4-foot-long (4.7-meter-long) adultPolycotylus latippinus plesiosaur fossil found in 1987. The fossil’s abdominal cavity contains tiny bones—parts of a plesiosaur that hadn’t been born by the time its mother died.
The finding, detailed in this week’s issue of the journal Science, is the first proof that plesiosaurs were viviparous—that they gave birth to live young.
“The fetus is too large to make an egg physiologically or mechanically feasible,” study co-author Robin O’Keefe told National Geographic News. “And why carry a big egg around?”
The discovery, while not completely unexpected, may fill a frustrating gap in plesiosaur knowledge, he said.
“Scientists have long known that the bodies of plesiosaurs were not well suited to climbing onto land and laying eggs in a nest [like dinosaurs]. So the lack of evidence of live birth in plesiosaurs has been puzzling,” O’Keefe, a plesiosaur expert at West Virginia’s Marshall University, said in a statement. (read on!)