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New Species of Prehistoric Marine Super-Predator Identified

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Jan 28, 2013 06:57 AM EST

Skeletal remains of a marine creature, discovered more than a century ago, have now been identified as a new species of prehistoric marine super-predator, according to BBC reports.

In the early 1900s, the partial skeleton of a 165 million-year-old creature was discovered by an amateur paleontologist in a clay pit near Peterborough, U.K. The creature was a distant relative of modern-day crocodiles. Since its discovery, the prehistoric creature has been held by the University of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum.

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Recently, a team of researchers led by the University of Edinburgh, U.K., identified the creature as a new species and named it Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos - meaning "blood-biting tyrant swimmer." Tyrannoneustes is one of the world's oldest known super-predators - animals that feed on prey that are either as large, or larger than themselves.

The partial skeleton of Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos, which included a jawbone and teeth, was found to belong to a group of crocodiles that looked similar to dolphins. Based on the observations of the animal's serrated teeth and jaw, researchers found that the species adapted themselves to eat large-bodied prey.

"It is satisfying to be able to classify a specimen that has been unexamined for more than 100 years, and doubly so to find that this discovery improves our understanding of the evolution of marine reptiles," said Dr. Mark Young, from the University of Edinburgh.

Young and the other researchers believe that the super-predator could represent the missing link between a group of ancient marine crocodiles that fed on smaller prey and the modern-day killer whales that fed on larger prey.

According to a report in Daily Mail, much of Europe was covered by shallow sea, creating a chain of large to small islands, at the time when these super-predators existed. Tyrannoneustes lived along with other reptiles and predators including pliosaurs, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs in the shallow sea.

Researchers hope the newly-identified species will help in understanding the evolution of marine reptiles 165 million years ago.

The findings of the study appear in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

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