March 25, 2008

Ancient Reptile Fossils Found in Canada

Canadian scientists have identified one of North America's oldest and most complete plesiosaur fossils, and the oldest yet from the Cretaceous Period.

University of Calgary paleontologists said the fossil, representing a new genus of the prehistoric aquatic predator, was uncovered in 1994 at a Syncrude Canada Ltd. mine near Fort McMurray in Alberta.

Former UC graduate student Patrick Druckenmiller and biological sciences Professor Anthony Russell named the 8 1/2-foot-long plesiosaur Nichollsia borealis in memory of the late paleontologist Elizabeth Nicholls.

This is exciting because it is truly paleontology on an industrial scale, Russell said, noting Nichollsia borealis lived approximately 112-million years ago. Although not classified as dinosaurs, plesiosaurs lived in the seas at the same time that dinosaurs roamed the land throughout the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. The researchers said Nichollsia is significant because it fills a 40-million-year gap in the plesiosaur fossil record.

Nichollsia borealis is currently on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum at Midland Provincial Park near Drumheller, Alberta.

The research is reported in the German journal Palaeontographica Abteilung A.