Predatory reptiles that trawled the oceans during the age of the dinosaurs used a rowing motion to scoop up prey, new track marks uncovered in China reveal.
The newly discovered tracks are from creatures called nothosaurs, the top predators of the seas during the Triassic period, which lasted from 251 million to 199 million years ago. The findings settle a long-standing debate about how the ancient sea creatures swam, said study co-author Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England.
The paddle prints were detailed today (June 11) in the journal Nature Communications.
Accidental discovery Nothosaurs were odd-looking marine reptiles that prowled the Triassic oceans about 245 million years ago. The predators sported paddlelike forelimbs and hind limbs, long necks and tails, and long jaws filled with small, pointy teeth, Benton said. [See Images of Nothosaurs and the Fossil Tracks]
Qi-yue Zhang, a member of the Chengdu Center of the China Geological Survey, was mapping geological features of China's Yunnan province, which is known for its stunning fossilized sea creatures, when he noticed several track marks on a ledge. The team dug up the area on the ledge and exposed 350 exquisitely preserved prints that formed about 15 different trackways, some of which looped around, Benton said.