After laying buried for millions of years, then spending decades in private collections, a prehistoric marine reptile has finally been described for the first time.
German and Swedish scientists published a study on Friday describing Arminisaurus schuberti, an aquatic animal that was 3 to 4 meters long.
A. schuberti was in the plesiosaur family and looked similar to the way you might imagine the Loch Ness Monster. It swam in present-day Germany (which was underwater at the time) 190 million years ago, during the Early Jurassic epoch.
"There is only the holotype specimen, which is incomplete," Sven Sachs, a researcher at the Naturkunde-Museum Bielefeld in Germany, told Newsweek by email. "Holotype" means that this specimen is the only one that has ever been found of this species. The solo find also means that scientists are restricted to educated guesses regarding certain parts of the animal, based on what they know about related animals.
"The neck is also incomplete, and so it is difficult to say how long it was compared with the rest of the body," Sachs continued. Related species had long necks, so A. schuberti's was probably somewhat lengthened. Another plesiosaur, Styxosaurus, had a neck that made up about half of its length.
Plesiosaurs are not dinosaurs, but they were fearsome reptiles that lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Roaming the sea and competing with giant sharks and other aquatic reptiles, some plesiosaurs could grow to the size of school buses.
While excavating land for construction, developers discovered (and damaged) this fossil. A Hanover-based fossil collector named Lothar Schulz discovered it in the 1980s and kept it in his private collection. Schulz eventually gave it to another collector named Siegfried Schubert, who made it available for scientists to study.
The researchers named Arminisaurus schuberti for Arminius, a German war chief, as well as Schubert, the collector.
Despite some damage, excavators were able to unearth fossilized remains of about 40 percent of the skeleton, making it one of the three most complete plesiosaur specimens from the Pliensbachian stage. The remains include part of the jawbone, some of the teeth, parts of the spine, broken ribs, bones in the flipper and a nearly complete shoulder blade.
Scientists were able to determine a surprising amount of information from this animal, despite only having parts of it. From its teeth, they could tell that it was carnivorous, and probably ate fish and squid.
Because this is one of only three species of plesiosaurs described from this period, A. schuberti can help scientists better understand the Plesiosauridae family.