An ancient sea creature with a snout similar to the spout of a vacuum cleaner may have been one of the first herbivorous aquatic reptiles. The discovery of two new fossils of Atopodentatus unicus, a beast of 2.5-3 meters long lived 244 million years ago, in the Triassic, led paleontologists to re-discuss the anatomy of the animal, and to specify its eating habits.
The previous hypothesis. The description of the first remains of Atopodentatus (literally "atypical tooth") never found, in 2014, suggested that the reptile had a vertically elongated snout, similar to the beak of a flamingo, which it used to flush the small invertebrates of its diet.
tool box. But the new fossils found in the Luoping County, in the Chinese province of Yunnan, offer new details on the mandibular apparatus and on the teeth of the reptile, more probably a sea herbivore, the oldest of which has any trace. More similar to the end of a vacuum cleaner than to the vertical beak of a flamingo, the T-shaped snout of the Atopodentatus housed, in the central part, chisel-shaped teeth, while on the sides of the jaws were small needle-shaped teeth, lined up in a dense and tight line.
first detachment, then I aspire. This conformation is not congenial to the chewing of prey. It is more likely that the reptile used the front teeth to detach algae and other plants from the rocky surfaces, and then, with the mouth closed, sucked the water now rich in plant fragments, filtering the plants with sharp teeth, which held the food before that he was swallowed. In short, the curious creature, perhaps related to the plesiosaurs (see Focus.it), the ancient aquatic reptiles with an elongated neck, wandered around the seabed, cleaning them like a vacuum cleaner.
It is generally believed that 95% of prehistoric aquatic life was wiped out by the end of the Permian period, 252 million years ago. Finding a creature with such bizarre eating habits lived shortly afterwards gives the idea of the speed and creativity with which life began to explode again.