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Researchers identify ‘snaky croc-faced’ sea creature of Wyoming’s distant past

 Hypothetical flesh reconstruction of Serpentisuchops pfisterae
Nathan Rogers
/
College of Charleston
Hypothetical flesh reconstruction of Serpentisuchops pfisterae

Seventy million years ago, an approximately 23-foot-long beast was swimming around Wyoming, whipping around its long neck and crocodile-like head in search of prey, which it would snatch up with 2-inch-long teeth.

That newly identified prehistoric marine reptile is now being called Serpentisuchops pfisterae, which researchers say roughly translates to "snaky croc-face."

“Sounds like one of the insults the French knights would’ve wielded in Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” said Scott Persons, a paleontologist and College of Charleston professor who led the research team that discovered the critter. They described it in a paper published Monday in the journal iScience.

 Scott Persons
College of Charleston
Scott Persons

Persons said it was originally dug up in the mid-'90s before years of processing – with help from some Wyoming volunteers.

“A team that is affectionately referred to as the ‘Glenrock Bone Biddies,’ because they’re a group of elderly women that have actually formed the equivalent of a paleontological sewing circle around picking at fossil bone,” Persons said.

What’s new about this old creature is that it has both a long neck and crocodile-like jaw. Usually, plesiosaurs just have one or the other, Persons said, and he theorized this one likely went after small, fast prey.

 Composite image of known skeletal material and interpretative body silhouette.
iScience
Composite image of known skeletal material and interpretative body silhouette.

“We think it was using its long, very flexible and also very muscular neck to swish to the side very quickly to snag at prey and that the long crocodilian-like jaws served to further extend its reach,” he said.

Persons said such creatures that experienced their own changing climate can even teach us about our fast-changing world today.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.