Uncovering the Food Secrets of Mosasaurs • Earth.com

Researchers have revealed new insights into the feeding habits of mosasaurs, giant marine reptiles from the Cretaceous period. The study reveals that these ancient creatures were surprisingly selective in their feeding habits.

The study was conducted by researchers University of Utrecht and the Natural History Museum Maastricht, with colleagues from the University of Leicester.

By focusing on wear marks on mosasaur teeth, experts have discovered intriguing details about mosasaur’s food preferences.

Geographical background

Known as the cradle of paleontology, the Maastricht Limestone has been a focal point of research since the discovery of the first Mosasaurus in 1766.

Located on the Dutch-Belgian border near the capital of Limburg, the area offers a rich window into the Cretaceous period, which ended 66 million years ago.

Study focus

„We were interested in whether the different types of mosasaurs around Maastricht really lead each other in their food choices or whether this is not a problem,” said paleontologist Dr. Femke Holwerda explained. Earth Science.

Lacking stomach content data, the researchers examined minute scratches on mosasaur teeth near southern Limburg and Eben-Imall, Belgium.

The experts used a new approach, first creating silicone rubber teeth, followed by 3D scanning. „This technique has already been used on dinosaurs, but this is the first time we’ve looked at the teeth of mosasaurs in the same way,” explained study co-author Ann Schulpe.

What the researchers learned

„Different mosasaur species exhibit differences in diet. We noted these differences mainly between smaller species with mosasaur standards – three to seven meters in overall size and larger ones eight to fifteen meters in length,” Dr Holverda said.

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There were few dietary differences among the larger species. „Especially the prognathodon, with its large conical teeth, appears to have had a surprising amount of shellfish in its diet, so it loved its seafood buffet.”

„Another species, Pleoplatecarpus, showed signs of wear with short sharp teeth. Perhaps this species also prefers fish with strongly scaled bodies.

Importance of study

This research adds important pieces to the puzzle of the ecosystem of the Cretaceous world. „We want to better understand diversity,” Schulpe said. „That made it easier for us because the animals studied were all from the same rocks, and therefore the same time period. So we’re not just describing one species, we’re looking at the ecosystem as a whole.

Maastricht Limestones

The soft limestone deposits around Maastricht are particularly valuable to paleontologists.

„Mosasaurus habitats are not preserved anywhere else in the world. You can find them in very soft limestone, so the wear and tear of the teeth from other causes can be avoided,” Schulpe said.

Amateur paleontologists

John Jacht, curator of the Maastricht Museum of Natural History, emphasized the positive role of amateur paleontologists.

„Amateur means 'interested.’ Thanks to 250 years of intensive research by these enthusiasts, we’ve learned a lot about mosasaurs and other extinct life forms,” ​​Jacht said. „A museum like ours benefits a lot from this. It also helps that this kind of amateur science is encouraged in the Netherlands: it is allowed by law. Not everywhere,” he said.

The mosasaurs

Mossosaurs are a group of large, marine reptiles that flourished during the late Cretaceous period, approximately 82 to 66 million years ago. They were among the dominant marine predators of the time, filling a role similar to modern-day killer whales.

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Evolution and diversity

Mosasaurs are believed to have evolved from semi-aquatic reptiles, a group that includes snakes and lizards. 40 species have been identified ranging in length from about 1 meter to 17 meters.

There were significant differences in their body shapes and adaptations, reflecting a range of habitats and food preferences.

Physical characteristics

They had long bodies, large heads with powerful jaws, and fin-like limbs for swimming.

Mosasaur teeth differ among species, with some suited to crushing shellfish and others better suited to cutting flesh.

Many species had bilobed tails similar to sharks, suggesting they were powerful swimmers.

Habitat and diet

Mossosaurs lived in a wide range of marine environments, from nearshore to open ocean.

Their diet is varied, including fish, ammonites, small reptiles and molluscs. As apex predators, they played an important role in their ecosystems.

Breeding

Mosasaurs were viviparous, born to live young in water, a trait shared with some modern lizards and snakes.

Little is known about their growth rates and life spans, but they probably grew rapidly to reach their large sizes.

Destruction

The mosasaurs, along with many marine reptiles, died out during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event about 66 million years ago, which also wiped out the dinosaurs.

Scientific significance

Fossils of mosasaurs, including complete skeletons, have been found on every continent, including Antarctica. Studying these fossils can provide valuable insights into the marine ecosystems of the Cretaceous period.

The study is published in the journal Scientific reports.

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