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Ancient Fossil Unveils ‘Dragon’ From 240 Million Years Ago

Dinocephalosaurus orientalis Fossil Reveals 240 Million Year-Old ‘Dragon’.
Scientists have disclosed the extraordinary fossils of an ancient marine creature often identified as the “Chinese dragon.” Credit: National Museums Scotland

Researchers in China have unveiled the remarkable fossils of an ancient sea creature commonly known as the “Chinese dragon.”

This creature, known as Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, lived around 240 million years ago during the Triassic period. It had an incredibly long neck, which it used to surprise its prey in shallow waters.

Although bits and pieces of this species were discovered back in 2003 in limestone deposits in Southern China, it’s only now that scientists have managed to put together enough remains to reconstruct the full picture of this magnificent carnivore.

The Chinese dragon stretched out to about 16.8 feet (or 5 meters) in length, as reported by Live Science.

Chinese dragon had 32 separate vertebrae in neck

The researchers shared their latest findings in a study released on February 23rd in the journal Earth and Environmental Science: Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Nick Fraser, who oversees natural sciences at National Museums Scotland, remarked that this finding adds to the already strange and fascinating world of the Triassic period, which keeps surprising paleontologists. Its striking resemblance to the legendary Chinese Dragon is sure to capture the attention of people worldwide.

The fossil exposes remarkable features of the ancient sea dragon. One standout feature is its long neck, stretching almost 7.7 feet (2.3 meters) and comprising thirty-two separate vertebrae. This is quite a contrast to giraffes and humans, which have only seven neck vertebrae.

The dragon’s flexible, snake-like neck probably allowed it to stealthily approach its prey. It would use its flippered limbs to position itself before striking. Inside the belly of this sea monster, scientists have found preserved fish caught in its serrated teeth, as reported by Live Science.

The researchers emphasize that, while the sea creature may remind some of the Loch Ness Monster, it’s not closely related to the long-necked plesiosaurs that inspired the mythical creature’s fame.

“We hope that our future research will help us understand more about the evolution of this group of animals, and particularly how the elongate neck functioned,” said Stephan Spiekman, the lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History.

The Chinese dragon adapted to more open waters

The distinctive features in the appendicular skeleton and the paddle-shaped autopodia of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis suggest it adapted to more open waters compared to Tanystropheus hydroides, says the study.

Dinocephalosaurus orientalis and Tanystropheus sp. didn’t coexist in the eastern Tethys, based on where their fossils have been found. All Tanystropheus sp. discoveries so far are from the latest Ladinian or earliest Carnian sequences.

While the exact purpose of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis’ exceptionally long neck remains uncertain, it likely helped in catching fish. Evidence of fish found in the stomach contents of one specimen supports this notion, according to the study.

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