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Tanystropheus (Wikimedia Commons)


Tanystropheus (Greek for "long-necked one"); pronounced TAN-ee-STROH-fee-us


Shores of Europe

Historical Period:

Late Triassic (215 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 20 feet long and 300 pounds


Probably fish

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Extremely long neck; webbed hind feet


About Tanystropheus:

Tanystropheus is one of those marine reptiles (technically an archosaur) that looked like it came straight out of a cartoon: its body was relatively unremarkable and lizard-like, but its long, narrow neck extended out for a disproportionate length of 10 feet. Even stranger (from a paleontological perspective), the exaggerated neck of Tanystropheus was supported by only 10 extremely elongated vertebrae, whereas the long necks of the much longer sauropod dinosaurs of the later Jurassic period were assembled from a correspondingly larger number of vertebrae.

Why did Tanystropheus have such a cartoonishly long neck? This is still a matter of some debate, but most paleontologists believe this reptile perched alongside Triassic riverbeds and shorelines and used its narrow neck as a kind of fishing line. However, it's also possible, though comparatively unlikely, that Tanystropheus led a primarily terrestrial lifestyle, and fed on smaller lizards perched high up in trees.


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