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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Evolution of Marine Reptiles

  • Author(s): Motani, Ryosuke
  • et al.

Reptiles have repeatedly invaded marine environments despite their physiological constraints as air breathers. Marine reptiles were especially successful in the Mesozoic as major predators in the sea. There were more than a dozen groups of marine reptiles in the Mesozoic, of which four had more than 30 genera, namely sauropterygians (including plesiosaurs), ichthyopterygians, mosasaurs, and sea turtles. Medium-sized groups, such as Thalattosauria and Thalattosuchia, had about ten genera, whereas small groups, such as Hupehsuchia and Pleurosauridae, consisted of only two genera or less. Sauropterygia and Ichthyopterygia were the two longest surviving lineages, with 185 and 160 million years of stratigraphic spans, respectively. Mesozoic marine reptiles explored many different swimming styles and diets. Their diet included fish, cephalopods, other vertebrates, and hard-shelled invertebrates, whereas no herbivore is known at this point. Sauropterygians and ichthyopterygians gave rise to cruising forms that probably invaded outer seas. Intermediate forms that led to the cruising species are known in Ichthyopterygia but not as much in Sauropterygia. Discovery of new fossils should eventually reduce the gap in the fossil record.

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