The scientific tourist #58 — the Mosasaur

This week’s image comes to you from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, New Mexico — it’s a Mosasaur!


Mosasaurs lived in the late Cretaceous period, about 85 – 65 million years ago — but they weren’t dinosaurs. In fact, Mosasaurs were reptiles, most closely related to modern day snakes (at least, if their double-hinged jaws and flexible skulls are any indication). While not particularly fast swimmers, they were one of the success stories of their day — they could reach lengths of 17 meters, and have been found across the globe.

The first (publicized) discovery of a Mosasaur was made in 1780, predating the first dinosaur fossil finds by nearly 50 years — or at least, predating the first dinosaur finds that people had any understanding of. Coming in the middle of the Age of Enlightenment, though, the first Mosasaur discovery drew a huge amount of attention to fossilized animals. This helped lay the groundwork for much of the studies that would soon follow.

FWIW, this particular model is of a type of Mosasaur called a Platecarpus. This beast was the most common genus of Mosasaur to be found in the Western Interior Sea in what is now North America, and had fairly small teeth compared to its relatives — so most likely they ate smaller or softer prey (squid and small fish) than other Mosasaurs.

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