Washington, August 21 (ANI): Paleontologists working in southern Utah, US, have unearthed a Dolichorhynchops plesiosaur-a gigantic Dinosaur Era marine reptile-with 289 stones in its gut.
"At the moment, it seems as though the stones served some sort of digestive purpose, helping to grind up bits of shell or bony material within the gut," Rebecca Schmeisser, a University of Nebraska paleontologist, told Discovery News.
What's particularly surprising in this case is that the plesiosaur had a relatively short neck.
It's neck was long by today's standards, giraffes excluded, but for a plesiosaur, Dolichorhynchops possessed a puny neck.
"The discovery of the gastroliths associated with this plesiosaur specimen were particularly exciting because most plesiosaur gastroliths are found associated with the long-neck morphotype," Schmeisser explained, adding that "the stones described in our paper are much lighter and smaller than those found in long-neck plesiosaurs."
This is intriguing, because paleontologists had previously theorized that the stones might have served as ballast, or a means of balancing the animal's weight underwater.
Now, it could be that the Dolichorhynchops kept swallowing stones that were too light for this purpose, but that's a doubtful sceanrio.
Modern birds, in addition to their already high fiber diet full of nuts, seeds and fruits, swallow grit.
The grit takes the place of certain strong muscles and bones, such as those associated with the jaw, which help to pulverize and process food.
Birds can then retain their relatively light and dainty anatomical design with the aid of grit.
Some dinosaurs also possessed gastroliths, perhaps for a similar reason. Dinosaurs, like hefty sauropods, weren't lightweights, but their heads and necks were, relative to the rest of their enormous bodies.
Plesiosaurs were not dinosaurs, even though they looked a bit like underwater dinosaurs.
Plesiosaur behavior was more comparable to that of modern day sea turtles and seals, but the prehistoric animals weren't at all related to turtles and seals.
It's possible that the stomach stone/grit solution to digestion independently evolved in plesiosaurs, dinosaurs and modern birds, but more research is needed. (ANI)