A team of international scientists, led by paleontologists from the Stuttgart Natural History Museum, has made a remarkable discovery that sheds new light on the early evolution of long-necked marine dinosaurs.

The fossil in question, known as Trachelosaurus fischeri, was first described in the early 20th century and has been a subject of debate among experts for decades. However, by comparing the fossil to new findings of a similar marine reptile from China, the researchers have concluded that Trachelosaurus fischeri is, in fact, the oldest known long-necked marine dinosaur in the world.

The Trachelosaurus fischeri fossil, estimated to be around 247 million years old, was originally discovered in the 19th century in Bernburg an der Saale, Germany, embedded in layers of colored sandstone dating back to the Middle Triassic period.

The specimen, which is currently on loan to the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History, has puzzled scientists due to its unique anatomy, including an unusually high number of vertebrae, and its relatively poor preservation, with an incomplete skeleton and scattered remains.

Dr. Stephan Spiekman, an expert on this animal group at the Stuttgart Natural History Museum, explains that by analyzing the Chinese fossils of the long-necked marine dinosaur Dinocephalosaurus and comparing them to Trachelosaurus fischeri, the team was able to determine that the two species are closely related.

This finding not only solves the mystery surrounding Trachelosaurus fischeri but also marks the first discovery of this group of reptiles outside of China. The early Triassic period, which followed the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event around 252 million years ago, was characterized by a rapid diversification of new terrestrial and aquatic reptile species, including the first long-necked marine dinosaurs.

Understanding the complex evolutionary and biological processes that led to these developments is a crucial area of research for paleontologists. The discovery of Trachelosaurus fischeri in a shallow water area, along with preserved traces of terrestrial animals in the surrounding rock, provides valuable insights into the marine ecosystems of the early Triassic period.

The study authors emphasize the importance of historical collections in museums and universities for advancing our understanding of natural history. As new discoveries are made around the world, scientists can reinterpret fossils that were discovered many years or even centuries ago, piecing together a clearer picture of the Earth’s past and the evolution of life on our planet.


Sources

Naturkunde Museum Stuttgart | Spiekman, S.N.F., Ezcurra, M.D., Rytel, A. et al. A redescription of Trachelosaurus fischeri from the Buntsandstein (Middle Triassic) of Bernburg, Germany: the first European Dinocephalosaurus-like marine reptile and its systematic implications for long-necked early archosauromorphs. Swiss J Palaeontol 143, 10 (2024). doi.org/10.1186/s13358-024-00309-6


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