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Tanystropheus

Tanystropheus is Greek for “long vertebra”. This reptile lived in the Ladinian stage of the Middle Triassic, 232 million years ago, in Europe, the Middle East and China. [1]

It was 6 m (20 ft) long, including its 3 m (10 ft) neck, which was longer than its body and tail combined, but was relatively stiff and only had 10 neck vertebrae.

Tanystropheus has been often proposed and reconstructed as an aquatic or semi-aquatic reptile. Fossils have mostly been found in semiaquatic fossil sites, but known terrestrial remains are scarce.

In 2006, Dr. Silvio Renesto described a Swiss specimen that preserved the impressions of skin and other soft tissue. Renesto thought this specimen supported the theory that Tanystropheus lived along the shoreline, snatching fish and other marine life from the shallows with its long neck and sharp teeth. The specimen showed a "black material" around the base of the tail, containing several calcium carbonate sphaerules, suggesting a lot of muscle behind the hips. As well as containing powerful hind limb muscles, this large muscle mass would have shifted the animal's weight to its rear, stabilizing the animal as it swung and manoeuvered its massive neck.[2]The skin impressions show that Tanystropheus was covered in semi-rectangular, non-overlapping scales.[2]

Tanystropheus is usually considered to have eaten fish, as it has a long, narrow snout sporting sharp interlocking teeth. In several young specimens, three-cusped cheek teeth are occur in the jaw, which may indicate an insectivorous diet; similar teeth patterns have been found in Eudimorphodon and Langobardisaurus, both of which are considered fish-eaters. Hooklets from cephalopod tentacles and what may be fish scales have been found near the belly regions of some specimens.

Nopcsa restored Tanystropheus as a long tailed pterosaur, Tribelesodon, but this is now recognized as a junior synonym to Tanystropheus. Two specimens were identified as Procerosaurus (6) with one being described as Iguanodon exogirarum (5) , later reassigned to Procerosaurus in 1905 and Ponerosteus (4). In 2002, fossils of Dinocephalosaurus were collected in marine Triassic deposits in southwest China. It was 2.7 m (8.9 ft) long, including a 1.7 m (5.6 ft) neck and head, and was described in 2004.

Tanystropheus appeared in Episode 2 of BBC's Sea Monsters. While Nigel Marvin swam around the Triassic seas, he encountered a Tanystropheus amongst a pair of Nothosaurus and a Cymbospondylus. Sneaking up behind it, he seized the tail, which broke off in a lizard-like fashion. This theory is now discredited.

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