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During the Cretaceous Lower, about 125 million years ago, the Iberian Peninsula was very different from how we know it now. So much so that in what is now the town of Morella in Castellón, for example, a large delta had developed along the coast.
In those shallow waters lived a group of marine reptiles known as plesiosaursIt has a small head, long neck, short tail and a wide, cylindrical body with large fins. Although they lived with the dinosaurs and became extinct at the same time, these reptiles, which could exceed 15 meters in length, were not closely related to dinosaurs.
In a new study, published in the journal Cretaceous Research, a group of paleontologists from the UNED has now discovered in the quarry of Mas de la Parreta in Morella an abundant and exclusive collection of remains of various individuals of plesiosaurs that coexisted with dinosaurs.
"The plesiosaur material identified in Morella is exceptional for the Iberian Cretaceous record," Adán Pérez-García, scientist in the Evolutionary Biology Group and co-author of the work, tells Sinc.
The twenty teeth and the large number of vertebrae (cervical, pectoral, dorsal and sacral) found cannot be assigned to a specific group of plesiosaurs. However, an almost complete cervical vertebra stands out that can be attributed to a leptocleidid, a smaller type of these marine reptiles that until now was believed to have only inhabited England, Australia and South Africa.
"It is the first reference of these animals in the Iberian Peninsula", indicates the paleontologist. These animals correspond to a group of very peculiar plesiosaurs, no more than three meters in length, and that contrary to the other plesiosaurs, they had a relatively shorter neck.
"Their bodies were robust and their heads were relatively large and triangular, and they were able to adapt from life in the open sea to that in coastal environments, such as the great delta located in Morella during that part of the Lower Cretaceous," the researcher details.
Unlike other species of plesiosaurs, leptocleids lived in generally shallow waters, and it is believed that they could even adapt to brackish water environments, such as the mouths of large rivers very close to the coast.