Paleontologists have identified a new dinosaur with a crocodile-like snout that hunted in inland seas more than 60 million years ago.
Gavialimimus almaghribensis, a species of mosasaur, was catalogued by an international team led by Catie Strong, a researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada.
The marine predator’s remains were found in Morocco.
More than a dozen types of mosasaur have been discovered in the country.
Mosasaurs lived during the Late Cretaceous period, between 72 and 66 million years ago. They breathed air and could reach up to 55 feet long.
Ms Strong said the discovery helps prove mosasaurs became expert “niche” hunters, which allowed them coexist with other mega-predators in a crowded ecosystem like an inland sea.
“Its long snout reflects that this mosasaur was likely adapted to a specific form of predation, or niche partitioning, within this larger ecosystem,” she said.
Ms Strong, who conducted her research for her undergraduate honors thesis, theorised that Gavialimimus’s crocodile-like snout “helped it to catch rapidly moving prey”,
The discovery has been published in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.
Each species of mosasaur evolved to become expert at catching a specific prey or hunting in a specific style.
For example, the Globidens simplex had round, fat teeth, which were useful for crushing shelled animals.
“Not all of the adaptations in these dozen or so species are this dramatic, and in some cases there may have been some overlap in prey items,” Ms Strong said.
“But overall there is evidence that there’s been diversification of these species into different niches.”
The different species of mosasaurs may have been in direct competition for prey. However, Ms Strong said the anatomical differences give more plausibility to the idea of “niche partitioning”.
“This does help give another dimension to that diversity and shows how all of these animals living at the same time in the same place were able to branch off and take their own paths through evolution to be able to coexist like that,” she said.
Fossil remains of the G. almaghribensis, including a three-foot-long skull, were discovered in a phosphate mine.
“Morocco is an incredibly good place to find fossils, especially in these phosphate mines,” Ms Strong said. “Those phosphates themselves reflect sediments that would have been deposited in marine environments, so there are a lot of mosasaurs there.”
Ms Strong worked with colleagues from the University of Cincinnati and Australia’s Flinders University. She was guided by vertebrate paleontologist Michael Caldwell, chair of the University of Alberta’s science department.