Any of various extinct aquatic reptiles of the superorder Sauropterygia that flourished during the Mesozoic Era and included the plesiosaurs.adj.Of or relating to a sauropterygian.[From New Latin Sauropterygia, superorder name : Greek sauros, lizard + Greek pterux, pterug-, wing, flipper; See pet-.
* * *▪ reptileany of the aquatic reptiles found as fossils from the Mesozoic Era (251 million to 66 million years ago). Sauropterygians include the nothosaurs (Nothosaurus), the pistosaurs, and the plesiosaurs (plesiosaur), all of which were remarkably well adapted to life in the water.The largest of these creatures were certain plesiosaurs that attained a length of 12 metres (40 feet). Characteristic of the sauropterygians are their long, flat skulls with curved, rounded teeth and complex palates; they also had long, flexible necks with up to 80 vertebrae.The first sauropterygians to appear were the nothosaurs of the Triassic Period (251 million to 200 million years ago). In these small reptiles, the body was long and slender. The limbs were comparable to those of terrestrial reptiles, and the animals probably moved through the water by undulating the body and paddling with the limbs. They clearly retained considerable mobility on land.Plesiosaurs appeared at the end of the Triassic and remained prominent into the Late Cretaceous Period (100 million to 66 million years ago). Fossilized remains are most common in deposits of the Jurassic Period (200 million to 146 million years ago) in England and Germany and of the Late Cretaceous in the United States. Specimens are also found in deposits from former inland seas and around the Pacific region stretching to Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In plesiosaurs, the tail was short and the neck was elongated. The trunk was broad and stout: the ventral bones of the shoulder and pelvic girdles were greatly expanded for the attachment of powerful limb muscles, and the ventral ribs (gastralia) were expanded and interlocked to form a “basket” that made the torso a relatively inflexible structure. Stones of various sizes were swallowed, apparently as much to decrease buoyancy as to digest food. The limbs consisted of long, narrow flippers that had numerous joints for increased flexibility. These animals “flew” through the water much after the manner of penguins (penguin) or sea lions (sea lion). The long jaws contained many pointed teeth well adapted for seizing fish. Pliosaurids were plesiosaurs that tended to have relatively shorter necks and immense skulls.Formerly considered a subgroup of Sauropterygia are the placodonts of the Middle Triassic Period (246 million to 229 million years ago). Their bodies were structurally similar to those of nothosaurs but more compact. Placodus was a typical form, having broad, flat tooth plates for crushing the mollusks (mollusk) on which it fed. Many placodonts evolved dermal armour, with Henodus having a shell comparable to that of a turtle. However, these superficial similarities to some advanced plesiosaurs appear to be due entirely to convergent evolution, and placodonts are no longer recognized as particularly close to sauropterygians.
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