Temporal range: Early Jurassic
|An artist's illustration of Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus|
Plesiosaurus (Greek: πλησιος/plesios, near to + σαυρος/sauros, lizard) was a large marine sauropterygian reptile that lived during the early part of the Jurassic Period, and is known by nearly complete skeletons from the Lias of England, Russia and Germany. It was distinguished by its small head, long and slender neck, broad turtle-like body, a short tail, and two pairs of large, elongated paddles. It lends its name to the order Plesiosauria, of which it is an early, but fairly typical member. P. brachypterygius, P. guilielmiiperatoris and P. tournemirensis were assigned to new genera, Hydrorion, Seeleyosaurus, and Occitanosaurus. It lived from 200-65 mya (Jurassic-Cretaceous).
Plesiosaurus was a fairly typical member of its order, and measured around 3 to 5 metres (10 to 16 feet) in total length. The snout was short, but the mouth was able to open very wide, and the jaws were provided with a series of conical teeth in sockets, much like those of the living gavial. The neck was long and slender, but this seems to have been rather stiff, because the vertebrae are nearly flat-ended, which indicates that it could not have been bent in the swan-fashion represented in many old restorations. The other vertebrae are similarly almost flat-ended and firmly united, and there is no sacrum. The ribs are single-headed, and in the middle of the trunk, between the supports of the paired limbs, they meet a dense plastron of abdominal ribs. The short tail was straight and tapered rapidly at the end.The pectoral and pelvic girdles which supported the paired limbs are greatly expanded, the pectoral arch being similar to the corresponding bones of turtles. The limbs were elongated paddles, with five complete digits, although each consists of a very large number of phalanges. Some traces of skin discovered suggest that it was smooth, not scaly.
Plesiosaurus fed on belemnites, fish and other prey. Its U-shaped jaw and sharp teeth would have been like a fish trap. It propelled itself by the paddles, the tail being too short to be of much use. Its neck could have been used as a rudder when navigating during a chase. It is unknown if Plesiosaurus laid eggs on land like sea turtles or gave live birth in the water like sea snakes. The young might have lived in estuaries before going in the open ocean.
In popular culture
- Plesiosaurus is in the video game Zoo Tycoon: Dinosaur Digs
- A Plesiosaurus fights an ichthyosaur in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.
- It appears in Dino Crisis 2
- It can be created from DNA in Jurassic Park III: Park Builder.
- It can be created from DNA in Jurassic World: The Game.
- The Plesiosaur Pond was an attraction originally meant to appear in Jurassic World but was cut from the final film. It was to be a large pool like the Jurassic World Lagoon inhabitated by Plesiosaurus and several unidentified species of ichthyosaurs. Visitors to Jurassic World would be able to visit the attraction by boarding a submarine attached to a monorail. Despite the attraction being cut from the film, Plesiosaurus is one of the animals that could be viewed on the Holoscape of the Innovation Center, possibly meaning it could have very well lived in Jurassic World.
- In the second season of a preschool show known as Dino Dan, a show in which a kid can see dinosaurs/other creatures alive in the real world, one of the creatures he can see is Plesiosaurus. In the show, it is called a "plesiosaur" even though that term is used for the whole group of animals.