An elk hunter’s discovery in Montana seven years ago has paved the way for the discovery of a new prehistoric sea creature species that lived around 70 million years ago in the waters east of the Rocky Mountains.
The new kind of elasmosaurus had shorter necks compared to others of its kind. Elasmosauruses were marine reptiles that had very long necks – up to 18 feet, ABC News reports. But this fossil, found in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, had a neck that was only seven feet long.
Patrick Druckenmiller, a paleontologist with the University of Alaska Museum of the North and co-author on the study, says,
This group is famous for having ridiculously long necks, I mean necks that have as many as 76 vertebrae. What absolutely shocked us when we dug it out — it only had somewhere around 40 vertebrae.
This smaller species lived during the same time and in the same area as the bigger ones, which is proof that elasmosauruses did not evolve to have longer necks, according to Danielle Serratos, co-author.
Elasmosauruses were carnivorous, and aside from long necks, they had small heads and limbs that resembled paddles that were as long as 30 feet. Fossils have been found around the world, and the one in Montana was well-preserved, as well as almost complete.
In 2010, David Bradt, a ranch manager from Florence, was hunting elk when he went into a canyon to wash his face. The water in the creek ran over something that he thought was a piece of petrified wood, but when he took a closer look, he realized he was looking at bones.
Bradt said, “It’s about the size of a cow, and I’m thinking it’s a triceratops. I didn’t know there was an ocean there.” He described the find to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.
Druckenmiller explained that it took a while for the fossils to be dug up, cleaned and examined, before scientists realized they were looking at a new marine species.
The study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.