Researchers have identified a new species of marine reptile, which would have lived more than 200 million years ago in the territory of present-day Alaska, in the United States.
A team of researchers first discovered a specimen of the species – classified as Gunakadeit joseeae – on the southeast coast of Alaska in 2011, according to a study published at Scientific Reports, quoted by the Newsweek newspaper.
The animal belongs to the group of marine reptiles known as thalattosaurs, which lived in the low latitude coastal areas of the Earth during the Triassic Period (between 251 million and 199 million years ago).
At that time, what is now Southeast Alaska was close to the equator and was formed by a group of islands with frequent volcanic eruptions.
So far, researchers have found few well-preserved materials associated with this group of animals, so their history remains largely unknown.
However, the team of scientists claims that the recently discovered specimen is the most complete thalattosaurus ever found in North America, allowing to deepen knowledge about the enigmatic animal.
"Thalattosaurs were among the first groups of terrestrial reptiles to readjust to life in the ocean," says Neil Kelley, author of the study at Vanderbilt University (USA). "They prospered for tens of millions of years, but their fossils are relatively rare, so this specimen helps to fill an important gap about its evolution and eventual extinction."
After identifying Gunakadeit joseeae as a new species, scientists sought to determine how it was related to other thalattosaurs by comparing it with other specimens in the group. The researchers identified the specimen discovered as a primitive thalattosaurus, which survived until the end of the Triassic Period, when the group was extinct.
One of the characteristics that helped the identification process was its large snout, developed in response to the marine environment that the reptile inhabited. However, this adaptation may also have led to the extinction of the huge reptile.
(tagsToTranslate) Marine specimen discovered (t) Huge marine reptile discovered in Alaska