Newly Discovered Russian Pliosaur Named After Mongolian Water Spirit

Posted on June 17, 2017

Luskhan itilensis Russian pliosaur

A new species of pliosaur has been named after a spirit from Mongolian mythology. The pliosaur skeleton was found in 2002 in the in the Cretaceous deposits on the bank of the Volga River. The pliosaur had an elongated skull with slender snout and relatively small teeth. An international scientific team has taken part in the study and description of the new genus and species. The researchers call the new species "highly unusual" and say it shows "close convergence with the cranial structure of polycotylids."

The new species has been named Luskhan itilensis. Nikolay Zverkov, a student from the Department of Paleontology at the Faculty of Geology of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, is pictured with the skeleton in the photograph below. He says in the announcement, "The new pliosaur - Luskhan itilensis - has got its name from the Mongolian mythology, where Luus-khan stands for a spirit and master of water, and Itil is the ancient Turkic and Mongolian name for the Volga."

A new evolutionary tree branch was created for the new species as a result of the analysis. In the pliosaur family tree Luskhan is located in-between the Jurassic and Late Cretaceous pliosaurs since it combines a number of primitive and advanced characters. The slender snout and relatively small teeth meant Lushkan likely hunted medium-sized prey unlike other pliosaurs, which were macropredators. The research paper on the new species was published here in the journal, Current Biology.

Zverkov says, "So, the new discovery has shown that ecomorphological diversity of pliosaurs was wider and their evolutionary history is more complicated than previously thought. For a long period of time there has been almost no information, concerning the Early Cretaceous pliosaurs. And this period in the pliosaur history is called the "Neocomian gap". However, the discoveries of the last years allow to close this gap."

Nikolay Zverkov with Luskhan itilensis fossil


Image: Andrey Atuchin/Nikoley Zverkov
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