July 25, 2006
Loch Ness-style Reptile Once Swam Australian Sea
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian scientists have identified two new species of ancient marine reptile, similar to the mythical Loch Ness monster, that swam in an Australian outback sea 115 million years ago.
The reptiles, named Umoonasaurus and Opallionectes, belonged to the Plesiosaurs group which included a "killer whale" type predator of the Jurassic period, palaeontologist Benjamin Kear from the University of Adelaide said on Wednesday.
Kear, whose team studied 30 opalised fossils mainly from around the outback mining town of Coober Pedy in South Australia state, said the long-necked marine reptiles swam in the shallow water of an inland sea that once existed in central Australia.
Freezing polar water covered large parts of Australia 115 million years ago when the island continent was located much closer to Antarctica.
The Umoonasaurus was about 2.4 meters (7.2 feet) long and had three crest-like ridges on its skull.
"Imagine a compact body with four flippers, a reasonably long neck, small head and short tail, much like a reptilian seal," Kear said in a statement.
The Opallionectes was much larger at six meters (18 feet), with masses of needle teeth used to trap small fish and squid.
Kear said most of the fossils found were of juvenile creatures, leading the scientists to believe they had discovered a seasonal breeding ground for the ancient reptiles.
The Loch Ness monster, sometimes called Nessie, is a mysterious and unidentified animal said to live in Loch Ness, a large freshwater lake in Scotland. Most scientists and experts say it's a hoax.