- Researchers identified fossils in a 100-million-year-old Moroccan freshwater system as a marine reptile.
- Previously, the reptile was thought to have spent time alone in salt water.
- Some once believed that the reptile could be the Loch Ness monster.
A slender-necked ocean-dwelling reptile once rumored to be the Loch Ness Monster spent part of its life in a freshwater lake, contrary to what researchers previously believed.
Locals in Morocco found fossils of the Plesiosaur in a 100-million-year-old freshwater river system. The fossils, including teeth and a humerus, were subsequently identified by researchers at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.
The findings are published in the scientific journal Cretaceous Research.
Previously, scientists thought the plesiosaur lived only in saltwater environments, said Nick Longrich, an associate professor in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Bath.
Now that the fossils have been discovered in a freshwater environment, the question is whether the plesiosaur was temporary or permanent there, said Longrich, who was part of the team studying the fossils.
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Some of the fossils are of juveniles, which were about the size of a dolphin, he told USA TODAY.
The plesiosaur can grow to be about 40 feet long, or the size of a whale, and it was known to live in saltwater, eating fish and possibly squid, he said.
But finding plesiosaur fossils in an ancient freshwater system has given researchers more insight into how the marine reptiles lived.
For example, its neighbors included crocodilians, turtles, fish and a giant aquatic dinosaur called the spinosaurus. At the time, the spinosaurus would have been a competitor and possibly a predator for the plesiosaur, Longrich said.
Could the Loch Ness Monster be? actually have been a plesiosaur?
There’s another reason everyone is talking about the discovery: 20 to 30 years ago, some people claimed the Loch Ness monster was a surviving plesiosaur, Longrich said.
Rumors of the Loch Ness Monster started in May 1933. A couple claimed to have seen a huge animal in Loch Ness, a freshwater body in Scotland, according to History.com.
A year later, a black-and-white photo of the alleged creature surfaced, but in 1994 it was deemed a hoax.
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But Longrich said the plesiosaur is unlikely to be the Loch Ness monster that made headlines nearly a century ago because the animal disappeared from the fossil record 66 million years ago. It appears to have died out at the same time as dinosaurs, he said.
He also said that Loch Ness, where the monster was allegedly seen, measures about 20 square miles. It’s far too small to support a plesiosaur, and while there are lakes that support marine mammals, they’re much larger than Loch Ness, he said.
“How could they exist unnoticed?” he asked. “Like a plesiosaur, it’s big. It stands out. It has to surface and breathe air. If they existed, people would see them come up for air. One would die and wash ashore like whales.”
But stranger things have happened, such as finding a live, ancient fish initially believed to be extinct, a plant dating back hundreds of millions of years, or in this case, evidence that a saltwater-loving reptile spent time in freshwater Morocco.
He said scientists are still discovering new species and researchers have never found fossils for the vast majority of extinct animals.
“I grew up with TV shows and magazines that talked about fantastic creatures,” he said. “This is quite interesting to think about, but unfortunately almost none of that stuff is real. Probably the Loch Ness monster isn’t real. But a lot of surprising things still happen in the natural world.”
Saleen Martin is a reporter for USA TODAY’s NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas and food. Follow her on Twitter on @Saleen_Martin or email her at [email protected]