Photo credit: International News

Paleontologists have discovered a vicious dinosaur with a crocodile-like snout that threatened inland seas over 60 million years ago.

Gavialimimus almaghribensis, a new species of mosasaur, was documented and tagged by an international team directed by Catie Strong, a graduate researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada.

The residues of the marine predator were discovered in Morocco, where over a dozen types of mosasaur have been found.

Strong made claims that the findings proved that mosasaurs came to be clever ‘niche’ hunters, enabling them to coexist in a full ecosystem.

According to her, the mosasaurs had long snout that proved that they likely adapted to a specific form of predation, or niche partitioning.

‘Its long snout reflects that this mosasaur was likely adapted to a specific form of predation, or niche partitioning, within this larger ecosystem.’

Strong, who performed her research as part of her undergraduate honors thesis, deduced Gavialimimus’s gator-like maw ‘helped it to catch rapidly moving prey.’

The findings, published in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology, enables the scientists to clarify how several mega-predators survived in an insufficient habitat like an inland sea, Strong said.

The Globidens simplex, for instance, has round, fat teeth that were well-suited for mashing shelled animals.

‘Not all of the adaptations in these dozen or so species are this dramatic, and in some cases there may have been some overlap in prey items,’ she said.

‘But overall there is evidence that there’s been diversification of these species into different niches.’

It’s logical that the different species of mosasaurs were in direct rivalry for prey but, Strong said, the anatomical distinctions give more credence to the idea of ‘niche partitioning.’

‘This does help give another dimension to that diversity and shows how all of these animals living at the same time in the same place were able to branch off and take their own paths through evolution to be able to coexist like that.’

Fossil residues of the G. almaghribensis, including a three-foot-long skull, were uncovered in a phosphate mine.

‘Morocco is an incredibly good place to find fossils, especially in these phosphate mines,’ Strong said. ‘Those phosphates themselves reflect sediments that would have been deposited in marine environments, so there are a lot of mosasaurs there.’

Strong worked together with colleagues from the University of Cincinnati and Australia’s Flinders University, with direction from vertebrate paleontologist Michael Caldwell, chair of the University of Alberta’s science department.


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