Uncovering the Ancient History of Snake-Necked Lizards: 100 Million-Year-Old Fossils Discovered

Scientists have discovered the first complete skeleton, including an intact skull, of the Elasmosaurus, a snake-necked lizard, in western Queensland, Australia.

Elasmosaurus was one of the largest species of snake-necked lizards to ever exist, with the ability to grow up to 10.3 meters in length and weigh 2 tons, with a neck alone measuring 7 meters. They lived in the ancient Eromanga Sea that covered much of the interior of Australia during the Cretaceous period between 100 and 140 million years ago.

However, due to the length of its neck, the head bones of the Elasmosaurus often separated from the body after death. The newly discovered specimen in Queensland is particularly significant as it includes an intact skull, which is a rare find, according to Ancient Origins on December 9th.

Dr. Espen Knutsen holds the rare, intact skull of Elasmosaurus as his colleagues excavate the creature’s remains. Photo: Queensland Museum

Among the Elasmosaurus skeletons held at the Queensland Museum and other institutions, only one intact skull has been found, but it has been heavily distorted.

According to Dr. Espen Knutsen from the Queensland Museum and lead author of the study, when an Elasmosaurus died in the ancient Eromanga Sea, its body would float to the surface, where it would be scavenged by predators. The head and body would then be easily separated by the action of waves and tides. Even if the head remained attached to the body, the skeleton would eventually sink to the ocean floor, where the decomposition of organic matter could separate the head and body by several meters in the mud.

The Elasmosaurus skeleton with an intact skull, discovered in Queensland, has been determined to be that of an immature specimen measuring approximately 7 meters in length. Despite its size, the specimen is substantial enough for analysis and comparison with other Elasmosaurus skeletons.

According to lead author of the study, Dr. Espen Knutsen from the Queensland Museum, the fossil will undergo a thorough examination to gain insight into the animal’s anatomy, behavior, and life and death. “We’re not just looking at the shape of the bones, but we’re also taking samples of the bones to examine their chemical composition,” Dr. Knutsen said. “This will allow us to determine if the animal entered the Eromanga Sea from the outside.”

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