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The first monsters of the deep were clearly ancestors of the shark

Posted in Animals, Dinosaurs, Fish, Nature, Prehistory on Wednesday, 18 September 2013

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This edited article about Prehistoric animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 405 published on 18 October 1969.

Triceratops, picture, image, illustration

Triceratops

The Triceratops is perhaps a better-known member of the same family as the Styracosaurus, that rhinoceros-like mighty horned dinosaur.

This awesome creature was probably about 30 ft. long and its skull alone measured about seven feet. It had three powerful and wicked-looking horns – the nasal horn and two others, one above each eye. It also had an enlarged rostral bone, like a curved beak, just above the mouth.

It must have been a most terrifying opponent. Indeed, its appearance alone would have been enough to paralyse with fright almost any creature alive today.

It may have been possible to attack triceratops from behind but even so the area around the neck, which might be thought to be the most vulnerable, was more than adequately protected by an enormous frill, covered with a thick skin like armour-plating.

Triceratops was a land reptile but even in the air, the weak were by no means safe. At one time there were some really enormous flying reptiles.

There was, for example, Pteranodon. This strange bird-like animal had huge jaw-bones which formed an immense toothless beak. The head was provided with a bony crest of considerable length and the shoulder blades were fixed to the backbone, so giving the necessary strength to enable the wings to support the creature’s great weight.

The wingspan of some types of pteranodon was 25 ft. and, although this is extensive, it is probable that pteranodons, on the whole, were not very adaptable in flight and were liable to all sorts of accidents.

Their hind limbs, too, were obviously very weak so that it is doubtful if they could rest on the ground with any comfort. Some people think that they may have rested with their heads hanging downwards like bats, although this is not known for certain.

The creatures of the sea also were multitudinous and extremely alarming in aspect. For example, there was Plesiosaurus. This creature had very sharp, pointed teeth along the edges of the jaws and none on the palate. As a result, it was highly adapted for catching fish, since the mouth itself was virtually a fish trap.

Some plesiosaurus had long necks and rather small, triangular-shaped heads. Others had somewhat long skulls and their necks were rather short. The tail, although strong and muscular, was not particularly long, since the limbs were in the form of flippers and must have enabled them to propel themselves through the water with great efficiency.

Some Ichthyosaurs had long, rather delicate skulls. Their jaws contained a great number of small teeth which were probably used for crushing the molluscs which made up their food.

Some of the early fishes of the seas were undoubtedly eaten by these ferocious marine reptiles. Among them must have been the fairly small Teleosts, the ancestors of the modern angelfish and the Belemnites, the ancestors of the modern squids and cuttlefish.

The Lamnoid Shark and the Pristid-sawfish were themselves quite large and ferocious and were probably comparatively free from predators.

But imagine what it would be like if the sea in which we bathe so happily were still inhabited by these frightening monsters. . . !

Fortunately, they ceased to exist long ago.

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