Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dallasaurus: A Mosasaur Missing Link

Image from HERE.

In the latest issue of the Netherlands Journal of Geosciences Southern Methodist University paleontologist Michael Polcyn and Gordon Bell Jr. of Guadalupe National Park in Texas describe the new marine reptile Dallasaurus. The three-foot long lizard lived 92 million years ago in the shallow seas and shores of what was then a stretch of Texas mostly under water.

Dallasaurus represents a missing link in the evolution of mosasaurs, prehistoric animals that started out on land, but evolved in the seas and dominated the oceans at the same time dinosaurs ruled the land. One aspect of Polcyn and Bell’s research is the revelation that Dallasaurus retained complete limbs, hands and feet suitable for walking on land, whereas later mosasaurs evolved their limbs into flippers.

“This is pretty close to the beginning of the mosasaur family tree,” says Dallas Museum of Natural History Earth Sciences Curator and SMU Adjunct Professor of Paleontology Anthony R. Fiorillo, Ph.D. “It is the most complete mosasaur retaining all of its limbs found in North America.”

The importance of the discovery isn’t lost on the researchers putting together the pieces of the mosasaur puzzle. In fact, they predict the legacy of the discoverer, Val Turner, will live on. His contribution was honored by naming the species, “turneri,” after his last name.

“Not all major discoveries are made by highly trained paleontologists,” notes Dallas Natural History Museum Curator Fiorillo. “The observant individual, even kids, can still make an important find,” he says. “Once this goes mainstream, and people begin to recognize what mosasaurs are, we’ll be finding more and more.”

Read the complete news release HERE.