Fossil Discovery Spurs Believers in Nessie

Study suggests ancient plesiosaurs lived in freshwater bodies of water, though not Loch Ness
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 5, 2022 1:39 PM CDT
Fossil Discovery Spurs Believers in Nessie
In this Jan. 16, 2019 photo, a sculpture of a plesiosaur is displayed at an exhibit about the studies of researchers from the National Museum made in Antartica, during a media presentation of the exhibit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.   (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

(Newser) – A new study offering some of the best evidence yet for ancient long-necked reptiles living in freshwater lakes has been seized upon by believers in the Loch Ness Monster. Plesiosaurs, small-headed beasts with flippers that disappeared from the fossil record 66 million years ago, certainly inhabited Earth's oceans. There is also evidence of them visiting freshwater lakes. But this new study, based on fossils representing a dozen plesiosaurs in a 100-million-year-old river system in what is now Morocco, indicates they spent a good amount of time in freshwater, per USA Today. "It's even possible that the plesiosaurs were permanent residents of the river, like modern river dolphins," according to a release.

For believers in Nessie, that only fuels the decades-old claim that the alleged monster in Scotland's Loch Ness is a surviving plesiosaur. The release notes the theory might be "plausible" if plesiosaurs hadn't gone extinct with the dinosaurs. But George Edwards, a former tourism boat operator on Loch Ness who says he's seen families of creatures resembling plesiosaurs, claims the creatures could have survived for millions of years unnoticed just like the coelacanth—a bony fish that was thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs before one was discovered alive in 1938, per the New York Times. Lead study author Nick Longrich of the University of Bath says that may be fun to ponder, but the reality is that Loch Ness formed 10,000 years ago, long after plesiosaurs vanished.

At 20 square miles in size, the loch is also far too small a space to support such a large marine reptile, which could grow up to 40 feet long, Longrich says. "It's conspicuous. It has to surface and breathe air. If they existed, people would see them come up for air," the paleontologist tells USA Today, perhaps overlooking the fact that there have been more than 1,100 reported sightings of a monster at Loch Ness. Still, coauthor Dave Martill says the study, published in the journal Cretaceous Research, is fascinating even without a tie to Nessie. "What amazes me is that the ancient Moroccan river contained so many carnivores all living alongside each other," including crocodiles, fish, and the huge aquatic dinosaur spinosaurus, he says in the release. (Other theories claim Nessie to be an eel or catfish.)

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