CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Paleontologists at The College of Charleston are now able to call a fossil that was found years ago by its name.
Serpentisuchops translates to snakey crocodile-face and was a prehistoric plesiosaur that roamed the waters that covered North America.
“Right where I’m standing there could have been plesiosaurs swimming,” said Dr. Scott Persons, who is a professor at The College. “We absolutely had plesiosaurs swimming around there during the age of dinosaurs. Charleston was completely underwater.”
The neck is long like a snake and the jaws have the size of a crocodile’s mouth. A human’s neck was seven vertebrae, but Serpentisuchops has 32. Before this discovery, plesiosaurs were thought to either have long necks and small heads or short necks and long jaws. But, Serpentisuchops has neither.
The fossil was found during a dig in Wyoming years ago and has been examined by Dr. Persons, adjunct professor of biology at The College Amanda Kelley and a Canadian scientist.
“There are a bunch of other things that have to be done before you can scientifically describe a specimen,” said Dr. Persons. “Chief among those is preparing the specimen. So removing all the rock and all the crud that still clings to the fossils and get to the point where you can actually see it in great detail.”
Then, Dr. Persons and others took measurements of all the bones that were found.
“We write up descriptions of the shapes of the bones and how they compare to other kinds of plesiosaurs,” said Dr. Persons.
From that point, finding out what the animal’s life was like is the next step.
“We know it looks different in those particular ways. But why does it look different? What was the animal doing that was special?” said Dr. Persons. “We think about what other plesiosaurs is it most closely related to. Where does it fit in the broader plesiosaur family tree?”
The next step for paleontologists is to use other specimens from the same location to construct the whole ecosystem.
“Think about the mosasaurs and the terrasaurs. All these animals that swam alongside Serpentisuchops,” said Dr. Persons.