Discovery of Massive Sea Creature Fossil in Morocco, Alongside Remains of its Final Meal .nh


The Thalassotitans were the leading ocean predators.

The fossil of a giant enormous sea creature has been discovered in Morocco. The creature lived in the Cretaceous period and its fossil was found next to the remains of its last supper, according to a report from Newsweek.

The enormous marine reptile, known by the name Thalassotitan atrox, was supposed to be a mosasaur that lived approximately 66 million years ago, close to the catastrophic asteroid-caused end of the Cretaceous period.

A study announcing the discovery of the fossil was published on August 24 in the journal Cretaceous Research. According to the authors, the Thalassotitans were the leading ocean predators. They used to hunt a variety of other sea creatures and were about 40 feet long.

Dr Nick Longrich, senior lecturer from the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath and lead author of the study said, “Thalassotitan was an amazing, terrifying animal.” He also said that, “Imagine a komodo dragon crossed with a great white shark crossed with a T rex crossed with a killer whale.”

The mosasaurs were actually the enormous lizards, and not dinosaurs, but were indirectly linked to contemporary iguanas. They could reach lengths of 40 feet and hunted a variety of different marine creatures. They were the top predators in the oceans, Newsweek further said.

“They ate a lot of stuff. Mostly they’re probably eating stuff like fish and squid. Some of them have crushing teeth, so probably stuff like clams, sea urchins, crustaceans and ammonites. This one ate other marine reptiles,” Dr Longrich told Newsweek.

This unique fossil was discovered in the Oulad Abdoun Basin of the Khouribga Province of Morocco, and it was surrounded by what might have been its victims.

According to Newsweek, at least three separate mosasaur species’ jaws and skulls were discovered, along with enormous predatory fish, a sea turtle, a plesiosaur head that was nearly half a metre in length, and other surrounding fossils with acid damage to their teeth and bone.

This supports the researcher’s hypothesis that they were consumed by the Thalassotitan, digested in its stomach, and then spit out as simple bones.

Mosasaurs are members of Mosasauridae, a family of lizards that became highly specialized for marine life in the Cretaceous period.

Their diversity peaked in the Maastrichtian age of the Cretaceous, between 72 and 66 million years ago, with the most diverse faunas known from Morocco.

By the end of the Cretaceous, these creatures had undergone an adaptive diversification, and showed a wide range of body sizes, movement styles, and diets. Some evolved to eat small prey like fish and squid. Others crushed ammonites and clams.

The newly-identified mosasaur species, Thalassotitan atrox, evolved to prey on all the other marine reptiles.

The marine animal had an enormous skull measuring 1.4 m (5 feet) long and grew to nearly 9 m (30 feet) long, the size of a killer whale.

While most mosasaurs had long jaws and slender teeth for catching fish, Thalassotitan atrox had a short, wide muzzle and massive, conical teeth like those of an orca. These let it seize and rip apart huge prey.

These adaptations suggest Thalassotitan atrox was an apex predator, sitting at the top of the food chain.

Thalassotitan atrox was an amazing, terrifying animal,” said University of Bath paleontologist Nick Longrich.

“Imagine a Komodo Dragon crossed with a great white shark crossed with a T. rex crossed with a killer whale.”

Dr. Nick Longrich with the Thalassotitan atrox fossil. Image credit: Nick Longrich.

The animal’s fossilized remains were found in the phosphatic beds of the Oulad Abdoun Basin in Khouribga Province, Morocco.

“The teeth of Thalassotitan atrox are often broken and worn, however eating fish wouldn’t have produced this sort of tooth wear,” Dr. Longrich and colleagues said.

“Instead, this suggests that the giant mosasaur attacked other marine reptiles, chipping, breaking, and grinding its teeth as it bit into their bones and tore them apart.”

“Some teeth are so heavily damaged they have been almost ground down to the root.”

Remarkably, the paleontologists also found the possible remains of Thalassotitan atrox’s victims.

“Fossils from the same beds show damage from acids, with teeth and bone eaten away,” they said.

“Fossils with this peculiar damage include large predatory fish, a sea turtle, a 0.5-m- (1.6-foot) long plesiosaur head, and jaws and skulls of at least three different mosasaur species.”

“They would have been digested in Thalassotitan atrox’s stomach before it spat out their bones.”

Along with recent discoveries of mosasaurs from Morocco, Thalassotitan atrox suggests that mosasaurs weren’t in decline before the asteroid impact that drove the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. Instead, they flourished.

“The phosphate fossils of Morocco offer an unparalleled window on the paleobiodiversity at the end of Cretaceous,” said Professor Nour-Eddine Jalil, a paleontologist at the Museum of Natural History in Paris.