In New Zealand, a deadly hurricane uncovers numerous Cretaceous fossils

In New Zealand, a deadly hurricane uncovers numerous Cretaceous fossils

Cyclone Gabriel, which hit New Zealand's North Island hard in February 2023, led to the discovery of many fossils dating back about 80 million years. What marine organisms could they come from? Paleontologists have some ideas.

Fossils uncovered by the hurricane

Gabriel, a particularly violent tropical cyclone, devastated New Zealand's North Island between February 12 and 16, 2023. It is the deadliest cyclone to hit the country since 1968, killing at least Eleven people. In the mountains, streams and rivers also quickly turned into raging torrents, dislodging thousands of rocks that had been there for millions of years. It soon became clear that one of them contained two fossil vertebrae.

The remains were discovered more accurately in Maungataniwa Forest. This forest is known to be one of the last refuges for many endangered species of plants and animals native to the region, and is also a center for palaeontology in New Zealand. It was here, in the middle of the bush, that New Zealand's first dinosaur was discovered in 1975. At that time, Joan Whiffen found a bone that was later identified as part of a femur. It belonged to the theropods, a group of bipedal carnivores including famous species such as T. rex. The discovery then confirmed the presence of dinosaurs in the area.

Marine reptile remains

Paleontologists He thinks These two new fossil vertebrae, which were first discovered in March, could belong to A Ismosaurus specimen. this is old Plesiosaurus. These marine reptiles, which lived about 80 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period, were characterized by a long, flexible neck, a massive body, and paddle-shaped fins. They averaged approx Its length is from ten to twelve meters.

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Fun fact: When this reptile was first discovered in the 1870s, paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope reversed the arrangement of the neck and tail vertebrae, resulting in an incorrect representation of the animal.

Credits: GNS Science/Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust
Hurricane Gabriel fossils
Credits: GNS Science/Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust

The researchers also identified another fossilized vertebra that could come from a mosasaur. These large marine predators, some of which could exceed fifteen meters in length, were part of the squamate group that also includes today's lizards and snakes. Mosasaur fossils (fossilized teeth and partial jaw) have been found in the area previously 2015. However, they are relatively rare.

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