It’s a monster of a marine reptile far older than we humans. Some 80 million years ago, specimen FHSM VP-5515s swam the open seas of (what is now) Kansas. For millennia, much of the North American continent was deep underwater. There, behemoths like 5515 ruled the seas.
And thanks to a newly published study in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 5515 finally gets a name.
Ectenosaurus everhartorum. It’s only the second-known species of the Ectenosaurus genus. Think Jurassic World‘s enormous mosasaur, but, well, more realistic. Streamlined. Stealthy.
According to the paper, Eve, as we’ll call her, had a snout and skull of about 2 feet (0.6 m) long. Like the only other known member of her genus, E. clidastoides, Eve had a long, narrow maw. This attribute makes their dual-member genus distinct from other mosasaurs, says study coauthor Takuya Konishi.
Konishi is a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Cincinnati. He also teaches ancient beasts to fresh minds as an assistant professor. But Kansas-laden discoveries like Eve are what he lives for.
“We knew it was a new species, but we didn’t know if it was an Ectenosaurus or not,” Konishi offers for Live Science. “To answer that puzzle, we were eventually able to find another feature where the jaw joint was, at the back end of the lower jaw.”
It was on this jaw that researchers would detect a “small notch” not known to any mosasaur species except the puzzling genus above.
Kansas Mosasaur is First of Its Kind
“That little depression turned out to be a newly discovered consistent feature for the genus Ectenosaurus,” Konishi clarifies. “You have this Ectenosaurus united by the little notch at the end of the lower jaw, but then it’s consistently different at the level of the species from the generic type — that is to say, the first species assigned to the genus.”
As for Eve’s defining snout, Konichi says “It’s a kind of skinny snout for agile, speedy snapping of fish, rather than biting into something hard like turtle shells.”
Yet this Kansas sea monster (as odd a phrase as that may seem) holds fascinating history even in modern times. The fossils leading to Eve’s discovery were originally unearthed back in the 1970s. Paleontologists of the time, however, had such a hard time classifying her that they chose to give up, essentially. As a result, the Eve wound up in storage with other mosasaur specimens of the Platecarpus genus; locked away at Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History (FHSM) in Kansas.
It wouldn’t be until modern-day paleontologists would revisit the puzzling sea monster that a new species would come to light – and Eve was reborn.
And if it still feels far-fetched for Kansas to be a literal hotbed for titanic sea beasts, it’s worth noting that paleontologists have discovered a whopping 1,800+ mosasaur specimens in the state alone.
As for Eve’s lack of relatives in her genus, Konishi finds it all “very strange.”
“Why is it so rare for a mosasaur, where you have hundreds of Platecarpus from the same locality?” he asks of prehistoric Kansas. “Does that mean they were living near shore, or were they living farther south or farther north?”
Like so many of nature’s great mysteries: “We just don’t know.”