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Analysis of two skeletons has revealed a new species of nothosaur. The group of reptiles lived in water during the Triassic period, over 200 million years ago. Around 60cm-long, the skeletons were identified as nothosaurus due to their extremely small heads, wide snouts, long necks and flipper-like limbs.
However, researchers noted in their study that the two specimens “differed from other known nothosaurus, mainly in having an unusually short tail”.
Dr Qing-Hua Shang, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, explained how the new species might have been adapted differently than other nothosaurus’.
He explained: “A long tail can be used to flick through the water, generating thrust, but the new species we’ve identified was probably better suited to hanging out near the bottom in shallow sea.”
It has since been named Brevicaudosaurus jiyangshanensis.
The newly discovered recital was able to use its short, flattened tail for balance.
Dr Shang described it to BBC Science Focus magazine “like an underwater float”.
This meant B.jiyangshanensis didn’t have to use much energy in order to move through the water while looking for prey.
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Other adaptations included strong forelimbs, short front feet, and dense bones.
The researchers say these characteristics increased the animal’s stability while underwater.
They would have, however, limited its ability to swim at speed.
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Meanwhile, B.jiyangshanensis natural buoyancy was increased by its thick set bones.
While in shallow water, the reptile’s density was the same as the density of the water – meaning it didn’t sink or rise, and could float almost effortlessly.
The size of its ribs also suggests the reptile had large lungs.
This increased the amount of time it could hunt for food underwater.
The head of the new species also sparked interests for researchers, who found a bone in the middle ear, called the stapes.
It was initially expected to be thin, similar to other marine reptiles of the time.
Yet, the staple was found to be “relatively massive, compared with that of some aquatic reptiles”, and was thick and bar-shaped.
As the bone is used for sound transmission, the scientists say B.jiyangshanensis may have had extremely acute hearing underwater.
Dr Xiao-Chun Wu, from the Canadian Museum of Nature, said: “Perhaps this small, slow-swimming marine recital had to be vigilant for large predators as it floated in the shallows, as well as being a predator itself.”
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