Scientists published findings on Wednesday showing the marine dinosaur, the nothosaur, used its fins like a plow to kick up its prey from the sea floor.
Scientists excavating in China on Wednesday determined that, in the Triassic period, sea reptiles used their fins to graze the seafloor and scoop up their prey.
The fin prints were published in the journal Nature Communications by Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England, and are believed to have belonged to a nothosaur. Benton’s team decided that nothosaurs probably rowed their fins into the seabed, agitating the sediment and kicking up lobsters and fish, like a plow does with rocks in the soil.
“By punting along like this, the nothosaur flushed these edible morsels out and snapped them up,” Benton said.
Nothosaurs are believed to have lived much like seals do today, catching their food in water but living a substantial portion of their life on the shore. They were predominant in the Triassic period, the epoch occurring before the Jurassic, between 251 million to 199 million years ago.
The nothosaurs had long bodies and tails and could grow as long as 13 feet in length. Their heads were flattened and elongated, and chocked full of sharp, outward-pointing teeth. Their long jaws led to a long neck, which was somewhat small in comparison to the rest of their body. They powered themselves primarily by their paddle-like feet that they also used like a carving-spoon.
Like many discoveries, this particular one occurred by accident when Qi-yue Zhang, a member of the Chengdu Center of the China Geological Survey, was charting geological features in China’s Yunnan province and noticed the tracks left by the carving-spoon-like fins of the nothosaur.
Benton’s team dug around the ledge that these tracks were discovered on and unearthed 350 pristinely preserved prints that formed 15 separate track ways, some of these tracks looping around. Many other dinosaurs were ruled out of the findings because most other dinosaurs would have dragged their bellies along the floor of the ocean, creating entirely different tracks.