The Original 'Sea Monster' Legend To Be Unveiled In Massive Display At The Smithsonian Museum

Thursday, 08 November 2018 - 11:26AM
Thursday, 08 November 2018 - 11:26AM
The Original 'Sea Monster' Legend To Be Unveiled In Massive Display At The Smithsonian Museum
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Tim Evanson – CC BY-SA 2.0
If you think the ocean is a scary place now, imagine what it was like 100 million years ago when actual monsters lurked deep beneath the surface. Starting tomorrow (November 9) the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. will exhibit the fossils of one of those beasts: a mosasaur that was discovered in the cliffs of Angola, a country in Western Africa. 

"The first time we set foot there, it was incredible," Southern Methodist University professor and vertebrate paleontologist Michael Polcyn told NPR. "You couldn't walk one pace without coming across another fossil. The ground was just littered with fossils." Polcyn and his colleagues have been digging for mosasaur fossils in Angola since 2005 and have been working on a 23-foot-long skeleton reconstruction for the Smithsonian exhibition titled "Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola's Ancient Seas."

According to NPR, some ancient mosasaurs were more than twice as long as this skeleton, and could weigh up to 15 tons. They had big heavy skulls, paddle-like arms, and looked like a killer whale mated with a very big lizard. "You can see it was a very optimized swimmer," Polcyn said of the skeleton reconstruction. "This was a pursuit predator." And the end of that pursuit was bad news for whatever the orca-lizard was chasing, because its 3-foot-long mouth contained several rows of sharp 3-inch teeth.

The Sea Monsters exhibit will also feature a skull specimen from a smaller Angolasaurus bocagei, the oldest mosasaur in the Southern Hemisphere which grew up to 13 feet long. Visitors will get to see a large mural of what the mosasaur's environment may have looked like 72 million years ago, touch the predator's teeth, and the remnants of its ancient oyster lunch. If you can't make it to the exhibit opening on Friday, don't worry – because you have until 2020 to get that mosasaur selfie.

Image credit: Tim Evanson – CC BY-SA 2.0

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