LONDON: Dinosaur fossils discovered in Morocco have fueled speculation that the existence of Scotland’s famed Loch Ness Monster could be “plausible.”
Experts at the University of Bath in England recently discovered the fossilized remains of plesiosaurs in a 100-million-year-old river system in Morocco’s Sahara Desert, suggesting that the long-necked creatures, previously thought to be marine-based, could live in freshwater.
Enthusiasts have long speculated that the mythical creature, nicknamed “Nessie,” might be related to the plesiosaur, given that tales and grainy images of it suggest it has flippers, a long neck, and a small head. But, until now, the tentative theory had been dismissed through the belief that plesiosaurs only lived in saltwater.
Dr. Nick Longrich, who co-authored the paper on the discovery, told The Telegraph: “We don’t really know why the plesiosaurs are in freshwater. It’s a bit controversial, but who’s to say that because we paleontologists have always called them ‘marine reptiles,’ they had to live in the sea? Lots of marine lineages invaded freshwater.”
Longrich’s co-author Dave Martill, professor of palaeobiology at the university, said: “What amazes me is that the ancient Moroccan river contained so many carnivores all living alongside each other.”
The find, including the remains of adults and juveniles, suggest that the creatures lived alongside frogs, fish, turtles, and other large predators including crocodiles and the dinosaur Spinosaurus, known to frequent aquatic habitats.
The paper suggests that heavy wearing of the plesiosaurs’ teeth similar to that found on Spinosaurus’ teeth in the area implied they fed on the same diet, reinforcing the theory that they lived at least semi-permanently in the same ecosystem.
The university said the Moroccan fossils showed “Nessie” was “on one level, plausible,” though also asserting that fossil records showed the species had been extinct for 66 million years.
The first known plesiosaur was excavated in Dorset, England, in 1823, and given its name, meaning “near lizard” as it was thought to be closer on the evolutionary scale to present-day lizards than other prehistoric reptiles found in the area.
The creatures swam by flapping four fins like a turtle and roamed the waters of the Earth from the late Triassic Period 215 million years ago to the end of the Cretaceous Period when many dinosaurs and other species also went extinct.
The mystery of Loch Ness and its monster gained popularity in the late 1800s based on ancient Celtic myths. But links to the plesiosaur went mainstream after a veterinary student named Arthur Grant claimed to have nearly hit the beast while riding past the loch on his motorcycle in 1934, saying it looked like a seal but with a long neck and small head.
That same year, the Daily Mail newspaper was tricked into publishing a photo purporting to be the monster, again with a long neck and a small head, bobbing in the waters of Loch Ness, which later transpired to have been a hoax sent to the paper by a former Mail employee.