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Scientists discover 240-million-year-old dinosaur that looks like a ‘mythical Chinese dragon’

By Brooke Villanueva Published Feb 24, 2024 4:21 pm

A group of scientists discovered a "mythical Chinese dragon"-looking dinosaur that's 240 million years old.

In a release posted on its official website, the National Museums Scotland said that the international team revealed new fossils of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, which is an aquatic reptile from the Triassic period of China measuring five meters.

"With 32 separate neck vertebrae, Dinocephalosaurus orientalis had an extraordinarily long neck that draws comparison with that of Tanystropheus hydroides, another strange marine reptile from the Middle Triassic of both Europe and China," the NMS said, noting that both of them have the same size and features.

It added that the Dinocephalosaurus, however, "is unique in possessing many more vertebrae both in the neck and in the torso, giving the animal a much more snake-like appearance."

Dr. Nick Fraser, NMS' keeper of National Sciences, told CNN International that it's a "beautiful complete specimen from the tip of the nose right down to the tip of the tail."

"It’s curled around in this sort of figure of eight and it’s very reminiscent of a Chinese dragon," he added.

As seen in its "flippered limbs and exquisitely preserved fishes in its stomach region," the reptile was "clearly very well adapted to an oceanic lifestyle."

"Despite superficial similarities, Dinocephalosaurus was not closely related to the famous long-necked plesiosaurs that only evolved around 40 million years later and which inspired the myth of the Loch Ness Monster," per the NMS.

CNN International reported that Professor Li Chun from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing first spotted the fossils during a visit to Guizhou Province in southern China in 2003. Fraser said he "noticed a small vertebra in a slab of limestone."

"That fossil helped illuminate this mysterious creature and an international team of researchers from Scotland, Germany, the USA and China published their findings in the journal Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh," according to the media outlet.