A Hunter In Montana Accidently Discovers Prehistoric Sea Creature

Posted: Apr 16 2017, 2:08pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 16 2017, 2:11pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
A Hunter in Montana Accidently Discovers Prehistoric Sea Creature
Artist's impression of exceptionally short neck elasmosaur. Credit: James Havens

The creature lived about 70 million years and recognized as a new species

About seven years ago, an elk hunter discovered fossil bones in northeastern Montana. Now, researchers confirm that the fossil belongs to a species of prehistoric sea creature that is new to science.

The species is a new type of elasmosaur – a large marine reptile with extremely long neck. Some of those necks could even grow as long as 18 feet. However, the fossil discovered in Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana can be distinguished from the rest by its relatively shorter neck that could stretch about 7 feet.

"This group is famous for having ridiculously long necks, I mean necks that have as many as 76 vertebrae," said Patrick Druckenmiller, co-author of the study and a paleontologist at University of Alaska Museum of the North. "What absolutely shocked us when we dug it out—it only had somewhere around 40 vertebrae."

Reseachers have named new species Nakonanectes bradti. This smaller elasmosaur lived around the same time and in the same area as the larger ones, suggesting that it did not took too long for elasmosaur to evolve their long necks.

The fossil discovered in wildlife refuge in northeastern Montana is well-preserved and almost fully intact. The uniqueness of the specimen was quite obvious even at the first glance.

Encompassing about 1,100,000 acres, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is known for its wildlife and recreational activities including fishing, hiking and photography. This is the second-largest National Wildlife Refuge in continuous United States and draws the attention of hunters as well.

David Bradt, a ranch manager from Florence, Montana, was also hunting elk unsuccessfully in November 2010 when he walked into a canyon to splash some water on his face. The water in the canyon ran over what he thought was petrified wood sticking out of a rock. When he pulled back the wood, he saw vertebrae and knew immediately it was fossilized bones. However, he thought that it was of a dinosaur.

The elk hunter took photographs and reported the find to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. It took three days to excavate the fossil, but much longer to clean, study and identify that it was a new species of a sea creature rather than a dinosaur.

“When most people think about the refuge, often their first thoughts turn to big game hunting,” said Paul Santavy who manages the refuge. “This is a vast, remote and rugged place that has changed very little since Lewis and Clark passed through these lands more than 200 years ago. While it is common for hunters to encounter elk during archery season, this is the first time anyone has found the fossilized bones of such a complete and new prehistoric sea creature.”

Researcher Patrick Druckenmiller believe that there could be many more fossil remains out there but only few have been excavated yet.

"It's a total bias—just more people out there are interested in land-living dinosaurs than marine reptiles," said Druckenmiller. "There would be a lot more known if more people were studying them.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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