Researchers resolve a 2 centuries old fossil mystery – how did creatures swim before the dinosaurs

Scientists have now reconstructed the manner in which ancient reptiles swarm the oceans even before the time of dinosaurs

According to computer simulations, it is suggested that the plesiosaur moved across the water like penguins using its front limbs in place of paddles and used the back limbs for steering. Ever since digging out first known specimen of bones from a Dorset Cliff some 200 years ago, the swimming gait of the creature had remained a mystery. It was in 1821 that Mary Anning, a fossil hunter discovered the plesiosaur. At that time, even the dinosaur was still coming.

A few years after Anning’s discovery, a scientific paper raised the question of how the marine creature managed to swim given the unusual pair of wing-like flippers it had. The debate has been going on today, till a computer simulation on the basis of Jurassic fossil specimen presented evidence favoring the penguin like motion.

The study was conducted by Dr. Adam Smith from Nottingham Natural History Museum, Wollaton Hall. He stated that paleontologists had a divided opinion on whether the marine creature in question used the four limbs similar to the rowing action of the oars in a boat, or a flight stroke like the modern turtles and penguins or perhaps a combination of both.

Dr. Smith, speaking to reporters said that the study showed that the up and down movement was more likely. He added that Penguins today are literally flying across the water, and that is the way penguins and turtles swim today.

The study is now published in PLOS ONE, the scientific journal and is based on computer simulation of a Jurassic fossil obtained from Germany. The fossil, however, is unusual since it is a near complete skeleton with all its four limbs preserved.  At about 3 km in length, it is smaller compared to many of the other members in the plesiosaur family. The computer model showed that the hind limbs of the animal provided a ‘relatively weak thrust’, says Dr. Smith and his colleagues the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.  The report concluded that the plesiosaurs were swimmers with a forelimb domination and used their hind limbs chiefly for stability and maneuverability.