University of Southampton researchers recently conducted a new study which helped them shed some light on the swimming style of the plesiosaurs, prehistoric sea creatures that were contemporary with the dinosaurs. The scientists were able to figure it out thanks to a specially created robot.
Plesiosaurs Had a Unique Swimming Style and Propulsion Method
The way in which they swam is believed to have made plesiosaurs quite unique among vertebrates. These were noted to have used two almost identical pairs of flippers to propel themselves through the water.
Other animals, both ancient and modern-day ones, are constructed differently and use front and back sets for different reasons and in different ways.
The way in which these prehistoric sea creatures propelled themselves has long since been a mystery, with theories going as far back as the 1950s.
“Fossils by themselves don’t tell us much about how plesiosaurs actually moved. Short of genetically engineering a plesiosaur, our best available option was to create a robot to show how it might have happened,” states Luke Muscutt of the team.
Together with his colleagues, Muscutt conducted a series of water tank experiments. These were carried out with some help from 3D printed flippers which were attached to a robotic mechanism. This was capable of mimicking the desired range of movement combinations.
Before constructing these, the team analyzed and studies the fossils and also X-rays of current plesiosaurs fossils. This helped recreate their large and wing-like flippers and also their movement combinations.
The study suggests that a plesiosaur might have used all of its four flippers to propel itself through water. Namely, it could have done so as the front flipper led to a significant increase in thrust, which was coupled with the efficiency of the black flipper.
Estimates suggest that this propulsion method might have increased thrust by almost 60 percent and the efficiency by up to 40 percent.
The team considers that this might be one of the elements which made plesiosaurs such “a successful species”. These were noted to have achieved a near global distribution in the oceans of the world some 220 million to 65 million years ago, during the Mesozoic Era, while dinosaurs roamed Earth. The species is believed to have died out some 65 million years ago.
A research paper with the results was released in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
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