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July 8, 2011

"A crocodile on steroids" — Meet the Dorset Pliosaur, the most fearsome predator that ever lived

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Excerpts from Rebecca Morelle's BBC News story follow.

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A skull belonging to one of the largest "sea monsters" ever unearthed is being unveiled to the public.

The beast, which is called a pliosaur, has been described as the most fearsome predator the Earth has seen.

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The fossil was found in Dorset [U.K.], but it has taken 18 months to remove the skull from its rocky casing, revealing the monster in remarkable detail.

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Scientists suspect the creature, which is on show at the Dorset County Museum, may be a new species or even genus.

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The 155-million-year-old fossil was discovered by local collector Kevan Sheehan between 2003 and 2008 as it gradually tumbled out of the cliffs near Weymouth.

Looking somewhat like a crocodile on steroids, it is now easy to see the power of this "biting machine": pliosaurs, which lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods were the top predators of the oceans.

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On show now are its eye sockets, perched upon the top of its head, revealing how it would have fixed its stare on any passing prey; the openings that held its it immensely powerful jaw muscles, allowing it to crunch down on anything that crossed its path; and the huge holes, running all the way down its snout, that contained its giant, razor-sharp teeth to help finish the meal off.

Paleontologist Richard Forrest said: "This is an iconic specimen — one of the most exciting we have seen in years."

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"It was probably the most fearsome predator that ever lived. Standing in front of the skull you can imagine this enormous beast staring straight back at you, fixing you with its binocular vision, and attacking. Just thinking about it raises the hairs on the back of your neck."

Its bulky body, which would have been powered through the water with four paddle-like limbs, has never been found — and may not even have fossilized.

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But new estimates from scientists, based on the 2.4m-long skull, suggest that the predator would have measured between 15-18 meters from tip to tail.

July 8, 2011 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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