Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks have identified a new species of Talattosaurus - marine reptiles that lived more than 200 million years ago. The new species, Gunakadeit joseeae, is the most prominent talattoosaur ever found in North America, according to data published in Scientific Reports. He gave paleontologists a new understanding of the family tree of these animals. The fossils themselves were found in southeastern Alaska in 2011.
Talattosaurs were marine reptiles that lived more than 200 million years ago, during the Middle and Late Triassic period, when their distant cousins, the dinosaurs, first appeared. They grew up to 3-4 meters and lived in equatorial oceans around the world until they became extinct at the end of the Triassic.
“When you find a new species, one of the things you want to do is tell people where you think it is in the family tree. We decided to revise his pedigree from scratch.”- Patrick Druckenmiller, curator of earth sciences at the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska.
Twenty years before the discovery of Gunakadeit joseeae, scientists had carefully updated the relationship between the talattoosaurs, Druckenmiller said. The process of re-examining the pedigree of a prehistoric animal involves analyzing dozens of detailed anatomical features from fossil specimens around the world, then using computers to analyze information and find relationships between different species.
Druckenmiller stated that he and colleague Neil Kelly of Vanderbilt University were surprised when they determined where Gunakadeit joseeae is located in the family tree.
“We thought it might be on the farthest branches of the tree, but it turned out to be a relatively primitive type of Talattosaurus that survived to the end of the group's existence. Talattosaurs were among the first groups of land-dwelling reptiles to re-adapt to life in the ocean. They have flourished for tens of millions of years, but their fossils are rare enough that the new specimen will help fill an important gap in their history of evolution and extinction,”says Druckenmiller.
Artistic portrayal of Gunakadeit joseeae
Fossils of Gunakadeit joseeae have been found in rocks in the littoral zone, which is covered with water all the time except for a few days a year. Scientists often travel to places like this during extreme low tides. This is exactly what Jim Beichtal, a US Forest Service geologist, did on May 18, 2011.
He and several of his colleagues, including Gene Primaki, traveled to the Keku Islands near Keik Village to search for the fossils. Primaki saw something strange on a rocky promontory and called out to Baykhtal: “Hey Jim! What is it?" Beichtal immediately identified the find as a fossilized skeleton, took a picture with his phone and sent it to Druckenmiller.
The next big low tide occurred a month later, and the team of researchers had only two days to cut a piece of rock with a fossil from the rock.
“We sawed like crazy and were able to pull him out, but we barely had time. The water was already splashing at the edge of our property.”- Patrick Druckenmiller
After examining the fossil, the researchers immediately determined that they had discovered a new species. The ancient animal had an extremely pointed snout, which was probably adapted to survive in the shallow waters where it lived.
“He probably thrust his sharp beak into the crevices and crevices of the coral reefs to find soft food for himself. We think these animals were highly specialized for finding food in shallow waters, but when sea levels dropped and food sources changed, they had nowhere to go,”explains Druckenmiller.
Once the fossil was identified as a new species, it needed a name. To honor the local culture and history, the researchers used the word Gunakadeit, which was used by the local Tlingit tribe to refer to the mythical sea monster that brings good luck to everyone who sees it. The second part - joseeae - appeared in honor of Jean Primaki's mother named Jose Michelle DeWelheines.