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Ancient sea reptile gave birth like mammal, study finds

08-16-2011 16:16 BJT

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- The unique fossils of an adult plesiosaur and its unborn baby may provide the first evidence that these ancient animals gave live birth like mammals, according to a new study to be published Friday in the journal Science.

The 78-million-year-old, 15.4-foot-long (4.7-meter-long) adult specimen is a Polycotylus latippinus, one of the giant, carnivorous, four-flippered reptiles that lived during the Mesozoic Era.

Dr. Robin O'Keefe of Marshall University in West Virginia and Dr. Luis Chiappe, Dinosaur Institute director of the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County, have determined that it is the fossil of an embryonic marine reptile contained within the fossil of its mother.

The embryonic skeleton contained within shows much of the developing body, including ribs, 20 vertebrae, shoulders, hips, and paddle bones.

O'Keefe and Chiappe have also determined that plesiosaurs were unique among aquatic reptiles in giving birth to a single, large offspring, and that they may have lived in social groups and engaged in parental care.

Although live birth has been documented in several other groups of Mesozoic aquatic reptiles, no previous evidence of it has been found in the important order of plesiosaurs.

"Scientists have long known that the bodies of plesiosaurs were not well suited to climbing onto land and laying eggs in a nest," O'Keefe said.

"So the lack of evidence of live birth in plesiosaurs has been puzzling. This fossil documents live birth in plesiosaurs for the first time, and so finally resolves this mystery."

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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