A recent study has found evidence that points to the possible existence, at some point, of the famous Loch Ness Monster.
Scientists from the University of Bath and the University of Portsmouth in the UK, as well as Université Hassan II in Morocco, published a study last week in the journal Cretaceous Research about the discovery of small plesiosaurs from a 100-million-year-old river system, now part of the Sahara desert.
According to the study, plesiosaurs were long-necked marine reptiles with small heads and four long flippers that existed during the time of the dinosaurs. They also served as the inspiration for the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.
While previously believed to be marine animals, the study suggests that plesiosaurs may have lived in fresh water.
“We really don’t know why plesiosaurs are in fresh water,” said Nick Longrich, paleontologist and evolutionary biologist at the Milner Center for Evolution at the University of Bath. said in a press release.
“It’s a bit controversial, but who’s to say that because paleontologists have always called them ‘marine reptiles,’ they had to live in the sea? Many marine lineages invaded fresh water.”
As for what this means for the Loch Ness Monster’s existence, the researchers say it’s “plausible” that the creature existed.
However, they say the fossil record also suggests that the last plesiosaurs died at the same time as the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.
Fossils mentioned in the study include three-meter-long adult bones and teeth and a 1.5-meter-long baby arm bone.
“It’s rudimentary material, but isolated bones actually tell us a lot about ancient ecosystems and the animals in them. They’re much more common than skeletons, they give you more information to work with,” Longrich said.
“The bones and teeth were found scattered and in different locations, not as a skeleton. So every bone and every tooth is a different animal. We have more than a dozen animals in this collection.”
The researchers say the animals may have routinely lived and fed in freshwater, possibly spending their entire lives there, similar to today’s river dolphins.
They say it’s also possible that plesiosaurs were able to tolerate both fresh and salt water in the same way as modern whales, such as belugas.
Scientists say the teeth also offer additional clues about the animal.
The teeth were not only lost while the creature was alive, but show heavy wear, similar to the large aquatic dinosaur Spinosaurus found in the same ancient riverbeds.
The heavy attrition, the researchers say, implies that the plesiosaurs ate the same armored fish in the river as Spinosaurus, meaning they spent a lot of time there.
“What surprises me is that the ancient Moroccan river contained so many carnivores living side by side,” study co-author David Martill, professor of paleobiology at the University of Portsmouth, said in the statement.
“This was not a place to go swimming.”