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Towards the end of Cretaceous perioda new study finds.
The extinct predator, named Atrox thalassotitanium, grew to about 30–33 feet (9–10 meters) long and probably fed on any other marine reptiles it encountered, including other mosasaurs. The name Thalassotitanium comes from the Greek words “thalassa” and “titan”, meaning “sea giant”, and the name of the species atrocious translates to “cruel” or “ruthless,” depending on the study.
Researchers found fossilized skulls, jawbones and other remains which they used to identify T. atrox near Casablanca in western Morocco, an area that was under water during the Cretaceous period.
The researchers found that the teeth of T. atrox were often chipped, broken, or worn, suggesting that the species had damaged them by violently attacking and biting the bones of prey.
Mosasaurs died out along with dinosaurs after giant asteroid impact Earth 66 million years ago. The new findings add to a fossil record in Morocco that shows the ocean there was teeming with rich and diverse life before the asteroid hit.
“They tell us how rich and diverse life was just before the end of the ‘age of the dinosaurs’, when animals had to specialize to have a place in their ecosystems”, co-author Nour-Eddine Jalil, Head of collection at the Palaeontology Research Center. Center at the Paris Museum of Natural History, said in a statement. “Thalassotitanium completes the picture by taking on the role of the megapredator at the top of the food chain.”
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Mosasaurs were a diverse group of marine reptiles distant from modern lizards and snakes. They ruled the world’s oceans for millions of years when dinosaurs dominated on earth. A 2014 study published in the journal Proceedings of the RAS Zoological Institute estimated that a mosasaur specimen of a different species in Russia called Mosasaurus hoffmanni was about 56 feet (17 meters) long.
The new species was therefore not the largest mosasaur, but it was still a top predator and fulfilled a similar role in its ecosystem to killer whales (Orcinus orc) and great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) today, according to the release.
Most mosasaurs had long jaws and fine teeth, but T. atrox developed a shorter, broader snout that increased its bite force and short, tapered killer whale-like teeth that could withstand the increased forces when biting large prey, the study found.
Researchers have found fossilized bones of at least three other mosasaurs in the same rock layers as T. atrox which showed signs of acid damage, suggesting that these mosasaurs were digested in the stomach of T. atrox and spat again.
The study was published online August 24 in the journal Cretaceous research.
Originally posted on Live Science.