Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Christening Of Predator X

Predator X
147 million years ago, a giant lay dying. After hundreds of years of cruising the depths of the Tethys Ocean, its life-story was coming to an end. As it expired, its corpse sank down and settled in the soft mud at the bottom as crabs and fish fed on its flesh. Over the millennia its remains were buried by sediment  and over millions of years its bones turned to rock by the crushing pressure. There it lay, in its rocky tomb until 2006.

An international team of palaeontologists led by Dr Jorn Hurum uncovered the remains of two of the largest Jurassic marine reptiles on Earth in a remote locality in Svalbard, Norway. Given the evocative name of Predator X, the fragmentary pieces of jaw, forelimbs and scattered vertebrae indicated that this creature was a behemoth. The length of some groups of marine reptile can be extrapolated from the size of the various components of the skeleton: the ratio of size of skull to body length.

The 147 million year old fragments of
Predator X, now named Pliosaurus funkei
Recent analysis shows that this creature's cranium was over 2 metres in length. Initial figures given for the size of Predator X were incredible: 15 metres in length. Some palaeontologists heralded it as the next great super predator, others dismissed it as media hype. Predator X was a distinct species, named Pliosaurus funkei, and indeed it was a giant. 12 metres in length with a 2 metre skull and a body weight of 45 tonnes, this creature was an apex predator and the most powerful in its time. 'They had teeth that would have made a T. Rex whimper,' said study co-author Patrick Druckenmiller, a palaeontologist at the University of Alaska Museum.

A size comparison between a killer whale,
a blue whale, Predator X and a human diver
Analysis of the muscle markings on the jaw showed that it would have had a bite force four times as powerful as the tyrannosaurids. With its four kite-shaped fins, a streamlined tear-drop body and its immense size, Predator X fed not only on fish, but other marine reptiles.

During the Svalbard excavations, the team uncovered the remains of other sea-dwelling giants. They found both new species and a whole ecosystem.

The marine reptiles were one of the most successful groups of animals on the planet, dominating the seas for over 150 million years. The only reason why they became extinct was due to the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs. The seas were choked with ash and the delicate ecosystems which once thrived began to die from the bottom tiers up. Creatures like Predator X were driven into extinction. The last vestiges of that ancient empire now exist in the realm of the sharks and crocodiles. Fish once again dominate the ocean.