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Scientists baffled after discovering bizarre 240 million year-old ‘dragon’

Scientists baffled after discovering bizarre 240 million year-old ‘dragon’

The 16-foot fossil has allowed scientists to see the creature's full anatomy for the first time

Stunned scientists have unearthed a massive 'dragon' fossil in China that is thought to be from 240 million years ago.

The complete fossil measures a whopping 16 feet (5 metres) long and has been dubbed a 'dragon' due to its extremely long neck and tail.

This bizarre aquatic reptile is from the Triassic period in Guizhou and has the scientific name Dinocephalosaurus orientalis.

The species was first identified back in 2003 but this remarkably well-preserved fossil has allowed scientists to study the beast's full anatomy for the first time.

The complete fossil of the Dinocephalosaurus orientalis has been found in China, giving scientists a first look into the anatomy of the beast.
National Museums of Scotland

Dr Nick Fraser was part of the international team that studied the fossil. He said it was the first time researchers had been able to see it in full and called it 'a very strange animal'.

"It had flipper-like limbs and its neck is longer than its body and tail combined," he continued.

"It is yet one more example of the weird and wonderful world of the Triassic that continues to baffle palaeontologists.

"We are certain that it will capture imaginations across the globe due to its striking appearance, reminiscent of the long and snake-like mythical Chinese dragon."

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Fraser added: "This discovery just adds to the weirdness of the Triassic.

"And every time we look in these deposits, we find something new."

It has been dubbed the 'dragon' due to its long neck and tail.
University of Bristol

The remains were found in ancient limestone deposits in southern China and have drawn some comparisons to the Tanystropheus hydroides, another marine reptile from the same time period.

However, despite similar features, the Dinocephalosaurus orientalis had far more vertebrae like a snake, which Dr Fraser speculates may have given it a hunting advantage, allowing it to search for food in crevices under water.

Research into the newly discovered fossils, published in the journal Earth and Environmental Science: Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, is a result of the work of an international team.

Researchers from Scotland, Germany, the US and China spent more than a decade studying the species at Beijing's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Professor Li Chun said: "This was an international effort. Working with colleagues from the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, we used newly discovered specimens housed at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to build on our existing knowledge of this animal.

"Among all of the extraordinary finds we have made in the Triassic of Guizhou province, Dinocephalosaurus probably stands out as the most remarkable."

Featured Image Credit: University of Bristol/National Museums Scotland/Marlene Donelly

Topics: China, Science, World News