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Ancient Marine Reptiles Used Unique Flippers To Swim Like Penguins, Say Researchers [VIDEO]

Dec 18, 2015 01:12 PM EST
Ancient marine reptiles known as plesiosaurs flapped their flippers like a penguin.
(Photo : Liu et al. 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004605)

Ancient marine reptiles known as plesiosaurs used their unique flippers to literally fly through the ocean, researchers say. Using new computer simulations, a team of scientists led by Greg Turk from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered these super predators of the dinosaur era likely swam like penguins underwater.

"Plesiosaur swimming has remained a mystery for almost 200 years, so it was exciting to see the plesiosaur come alive on the computer screen," Adam Smith, co-author and a paleontologist from Nottingham Natural History Museum, explained in a news release

Plesiosaurs are an extinct group of marine reptiles that served as the ocean's alpha predators from the end of the Triassic period 220 million years ago until the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago. These reptiles were equipped with a long neck, broad body, four large flippers and a short tail – a body plan unlike any modern-day swimming animal, researchers say. (Scroll to read more...)

For their study, computer scientists simulated thousands of different swimming motions that could have been used by plesiosaurs, based on their known body structure. They found that the most effective strategy was one in which the plesiosaur flapped its front two flippers to control forward speed and used its back two flippers more for steering and stability. Researchers found it surprising that reptile's back two flippers would not have aided in speed.

"Our results show that the front limbs provide the powerhouse for plesiosaur propulsion while the hind limbs are more passive," Smith added.

Their findings were recently published in PLOS Computational Biology

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