Science Newsflash

Science Newsflash brings you the most current scientific news stories from The Field Museum. 

Strange sea-dwelling reptile fossil hints at rapid evolution after mass extinction

Two hundred and fifty million years ago, life on earth was in a tail-spin—climate change, volcanic eruptions, and rising sea levels contributed to a mass extinction that makes the death of the dinosaurs look like child’s play. Marine life got hit hardest—96% of all marine species went extinct. For a long time, scientists believed that the early marine reptiles that came about after the mass extinction evolved slowly, but the recent discovery of a strange new fossil brings that view into question.

“Hammerhead” creature was world’s first plant-eating marine reptile

In 2014, scientists discovered a bizarre fossil—a crocodile-sized sea-dwelling reptile that lived 242 million years ago in what today is southern China. Its head was poorly preserved, but it seemed to have a flamingo-like beak. But in a paper published today in Science Advances, paleontologists reveal what was really going on—that “beak” is actually part of a hammerhead-shaped jaw apparatus, which it used to feed on plants on the ocean floor. It’s the earliest known example of an herbivorous marine reptile.

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