Solving the mystery of one of the most baffling animals that ever lived

A rendering of the Triassic-era aquatic reptile Tanystropheus. The creature was initially described in the 1850s, based on a few tube-like bones. Only in the 1930s, when more complete fossils emerged from the Monte San Giorgio in Switzerland, did sci
A rendering of the Triassic-era aquatic reptile Tanystropheus. The creature was initially described in the 1850s, based on a few tube-like bones. Only in the 1930s, when more complete fossils emerged from the Monte San Giorgio in Switzerland, did scientists realise they were looking at neck vertebrae from a strange reptile whose way of life they could not figure out.PHOTOS: NYTIMES
A digital model of the skull of the Tanystropheus, constructed from CT scans of crushed skull pieces. The rebuilt skull revealed several aquatic adaptations.
A digital model of the skull of the Tanystropheus, constructed from CT scans of crushed skull pieces. The rebuilt skull revealed several aquatic adaptations.PHOTOS: NYTIMES

Paleontologists have long puzzled over how this 6m-long reptile used its 2.7m-long neck

Nearly 250 million years ago, a very odd reptile patrolled the shorelines and coves of the Triassic Alps. Called Tanystropheus, it had a toothy head and a body echoing that of modern monitor lizards. But between them stretched a horizontal, giraffe-like neck.

The question of how this 6m-long creature used that 2.7m-long neck has bedevilled paleontologists for more than 100 years, and it is seen as "one of the most baffling animals that ever lived", said Mr Stephan Spiekman, a paleontologist at the University of Zurich, in Switzerland.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2020, with the headline 'Making sense of one of the most baffling animals ever'. Print Edition | Subscribe