Fossil range: Toarcian, 183-176 Ma
| Scientific classification
Pelagosaurus (meaning "lizard of the open sea") is an extinct genus of thalattosuchian crocodyliform that lived during the Toarcian stage of the Lower Jurassic, around 183 Ma to 175 Ma (million years ago), in shallow epicontinental seas that covered much of what is now Western Europe. The systematic taxonomy of Pelagosaurus has been fiercely disputed over the years, and was assigned to Thalattosuchia after its systematics within Teleosauridae were disputed. Pelagosaurus was markedly similar to the modern-day gharial, which has similar adaptions and carnivorous feeding habits.
Pelagosaurus was originally described from a specimen from Normandy, but the holotype for P. typus was discovered north of the town of Ilminster in Somerset, England. Most Pelagosaurus remains have been found in the Ilminster area, but numerous other remains, predominantly skulls and articulated skeletons, have been found around Western Europe in locations such as France and Germany. Specimens from the Somerset region come primarily from the Strawberry Bank quarry north of Ilminster; although the site had yielded other fossil remains before, the site has since been built over. One of the specimens was that of a small juvenile, providing some insight into Pelagosaurus' growth pattern.
The evolutionary relationships of Pelagosaurus has been confusing as there have been three different interpretations as to where in Thalattosuchia it belongs:
- Teleosaurid: The teleosaurid classification of Pelagosaurus, based upon anatomical similarity, was maintained by Eudes-Deslongchamps, Westphal and Duffin.
- Metriorhynchid: Its position as a basal metriorhynchid was made by Buffetaut.
- Basal thalattosuchian: However, phylogenetic analyses from the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s found Pelagosaurus to be the sister taxon to both Teleosauridae and Metriorhynchidae.
Pelagosaurus was well adapted to aquatic life; it had developed a long, streamlined snout, a tail with fin-like attributes and paddle-like limbs for swimming in the warm, shallow waters of its time. Pelagosaurus had 30 teeth suitable for hunting and grasping fish, crustaceans and insects whilst swimming; indeed, one fossil specimen was found with a Leptolepis— an early teleost fish— in its stomach contents. Its forward-facing eyes and streamlined body suggest that Pelagosaurus was a pursuit predator, rather than a scavenger or ambush hunter. Pelagosaurus was markedly similar to modern crocodiles, and would have swum in much similar manner, whipping its tail from side to side, although its veterbral structure was slightly more agile, probably allowing for more movement in the water than its modern equivalents. Pelagosaurus would have only emerged from the water to lay eggs or to rest on the banks, and would have spent the rest of its day in the water for which it was adapted.
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