Huge 'Snakey Crocodile-Face' Sea Monster Discovered in Wyoming

An ancient serpentine sea monster, measuring more than 23 feet in length, has been discovered in Wyoming and has been named "snakey crocodile-face" by scientists.

The giant reptile is thought to have swum the seas more than 70 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Its name, Serpentisuchops, literally translates to "snakey crocodile-face," describing the creature's long, snakey neck and protruding, crocodile-like jaws.

Serpentisuchops
Artist's impression of prehistoric marine reptile, Serpentisuchops. A specimen has been found in Wyoming. Nathan E. Rogers

"For comparison, your own neck has a mere seven vertebrae," research lead Professor Scott Persons, from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, said in a statement. "Serpentisuchops has 32."

Serpentisuchops is a member of an extinct group of marine reptiles called the plesiosaurs, but its unique morphology is changing what was known about this long-lost lineage.

So far, scientists have identified more than 100 species of plesiosaur, with one of the largest species identified being around 50 feet long. Nicknamed Predator X, this 45-ton behemoth was discovered in Svalbard, Norway, in 2009 and is said to have had a bite four times stronger than a T. rex.

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An artist's impression of an Elasmosaurus, another species of plesiosaur. Scientists have identified more than 100 species. Daniel Eskridge/Getty

"When I was a student I was taught that all late-evolving plesiosaurs fall into one of two anatomical categories," said Persons. "Those with really long necks and tiny heads, and those with short necks and really long jaws. Well, our new animal totally confounds those categories."

The fossil was unearthed more than 25 years ago in a sulfuric patch of badlands in eastern Wyoming and donated to the Paleon Museum in Glenrock, where it has been studied. "Most of that time has been spent cleaning it and preparing it for scientific examination," Persons told Newsweek. Only now has the specimen been able to reveal its secrets.

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A stock image of the Badlands around Dubois, Wyoming. The fossil of the Serpentisuchops was unearthed here. DavidByronKeener/Getty

The researchers believe that Serpentisuchops lived largely on a diet of small, quick-swimming prey, such as squid and tiny fish.

"The tall, conical teeth are smooth and not serrated with a cutting edge, so this animal wouldn't have been able to bite through thick bone," Persons told LiveScience website. "The teeth had a single function, which was to do a very good job at stabbing and skewering prey."

When Serpentisuchops was alive, much of North America's interior was covered by a shallow sea called the Western Interior Seaway. "Our particular plesiosaur is not present at the end of the Cretaceous period," which was the time when dinosaurs and most known plesiosaurs went extinct.

Persons told Newsweek: "[Serpentisuchops] might have gone extinct, due in part to the reduction in the Western Interior Seaway," which occurred 70 million years ago.

"Plesiosaurs were globally distributed... and around for such a long period of time. I suspect that we know only a tiny, tiny fraction of all the plesiosaur species that ever were."