Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Specimen Formerly Known As Predator X

Meet P. Funkei, the newest member of the genus Pliosaurus (and now its very own species). 

Artistic rendering of P. Funkei (that's the badboy with its jaws around its long-necked cousin, the plesiosaurus. And no, it's not a dinosaur- even if it does look mean enough to be one).
Image credit: Atlantic productions

When the first P. Funkei skeleton was discovered in 2006 the media dubbed it "Predator X". Over the next several years researchers analyzed Predator X and another skeleton unearthed in an Arctic archipelago off of Norway and concluded that both specimens were of the same novel species. After an article which appeared in last week's Norwegian Journal of Geology, Predator X has been reborn as Pliosaurus FunkeiP. Funkei were so named for Bjorn Funke and his wife, May-Liss, the volunteer discoverers of one of the two specimens analyzed in the publication. 

Pliosaurs are marine reptiles that roamed the seas from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous periods, approximately 160-145 million years ago. They are known for their short necks and powerful jaws, and P. Funkei is no exception. These fierce aquatic predators had jaws that would intimidate the now-dethroned king of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus Rex, with a bite estimated to have been four times as powerful as the latter. The authors of the paper in which P. Funkei is described estimate that they reached lengths of up to 42 feet (10-13 meters), making the average P. Funkei bigger than a killer whale, which is one of today's largest ocean predators.

The paper describing P. Funkei was published in the Norwegian Journal of Geology along with several other findings from the same region which had been unearthed over the past several years, including the discovery of two new plesiosauran species (the plesiosaur is the unfortunate victim in the picture above) and two new species of ichtyosaur. After this most recent onslaught of publications, it seems like the Arctic seas of the Jurassic and Cretaceous are rapidly filling up. Is it me, or is it getting a little crowded in here?

Knutsen, E.M., Druckenmiller, P.S. & Hurum, J.H. A new species of Pliosaurus (Sauropterygia: Plesiosauria) from the Middle Volgian of central
Spitsbergen, Norway. Norwegian Journal of Geology, Vol 92, pp. 235-258. Trondheim 2012, ISSN 029-196X.

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