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Dinosaur-era fossils of sea lizard with "a demon's face and teeth like knives" found in Morocco

Ancient "sea dragon" fossil discovered in UK
180-million-year-old giant "sea dragon" fossil discovered in UK 01:04

Scientists have discovered the fossils of a new prehistoric species in Morocco — a bizarre-looking marine lizard considerably larger than a great white shark, which, they say, dominated the seas while dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The gargantuan creature, dubbed Kinjaria acuta, is estimated to have measured about 25 feet long, according to the scientists who studied its remains. Its unusually-shaped skull alone was about three feet from end to end, making both the skull and body size roughly comparable to that of a contemporary orca. Nick Longrich, a lecturer in evolutionary biology at the University of Bath who led the study, pointed out that the largest known great white sharks in modern times are about 20 feet long. 

Khinjaria acuta was around the length of an orca. Andrey Atuchin/University of Bath

Longrich and his colleagues believe that the large species was likely an apex predator when it existed 66 million years ago, at the tail end of the Cretaceous Period. That means the creature would have been around during roughly the same chapter of history as the Tyrannosaurus and the Triceratops that lived on land during the last 10 million years of the Cretaceous. The period culminated abruptly about 1 million years after Longrich's team say their Kinjaria acuta hunted the world's oceans, with the infamous mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

In a blog post, Longrich described the Khinjaria acuta as "a freakish new species ... with a demon's face and teeth like knives." The name itself, which Longrich and his colleagues picked themselves, comes from a combination of Arabic and Latin words that together translate to "sharp dagger" or "sharp knife."

"Its eyes are small and beady, the face is short and massive, the back of the skull is weirdly stretched out," Longrich's post read. "The jaws were powerful, with the teeth in the front of the jaws being long, straight and flattened side to side, like a set of daggers, giving it a wicked smile."  

While the Kinjaria acuta may have lived alongside the dinosaurs, it was not actually a dinosaur itself. Rather, the creature belonged to a unique species of enormous aquatic reptiles called mosasaurs, whose descendants probably include the Komodo dragon. Essentially a family of especially gigantic sea lizards and snakes, these extinct "sea monsters" are known to scientists for their generally frightening appearances. But the Kinjaria acuta was a "positively demonic" breed of mosasaur, Longrich said, with "cruel" and "nightmarish" looks that he likened to those of the main character in the contemporary manga horror series "Chainsaw Man."  

Nick Longrich / University of Bath

Longrich and his colleagues believe the ancient creature populated portions of the eastern Atlantic Ocean near what is now Morocco, according to their report on the new fossils. This particular stretch of water may have been home to other prehistoric apex predators whose fossils have previously been discovered in the same region. 

"This is one of the most diverse marine faunas seen anywhere, at any time in history, and it existed just before the marine reptiles and the dinosaurs went extinct," Longrich told the BBC, adding, "This incredible diversity of top predators in the Late Cretaceous is unusual, and we don't see that in modern marine communities."

Taken together, fossils found in and around Morocco suggest to scientists that other large predatory creatures potentially inhabited the same seas as the Kinjaria acuta, although Longrich noted that more research on that front is still needed.

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