Page:North American Plesiosaurs- Elasmosaurus, Cimoliasaurus, and Polycotylus.pdf/6

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
226
S. W. Williston —North American Plesiosaurs.

not all, motility was confined. The total length of the neck in this species in life, allowing six millimeters only for the thickness of the interarticular cartilages between adjacent vertebræ, was exactly twenty-three feet. A close approximation to the length of the trunk is nine feet ; of the tail, eight feet. The length of the head, using E. snowii for comparison (and the remains of the type preserved show that there must have been great resemblance between these two forms in the skull), was less than two feet. The entire length of the animal in life, then, was a little over forty-two feet, an estimate somewhat less than that reached by Cope. Other specimens referred to this genus exceeded these dimensions very materially, indicating, if their proportions were alike, an extreme length of not less than sixty feet. The elasmosaurs doubtless were the longest, if not the largest, of all known marine reptiles.

In the extreme elongation of the neck, Elasmosaurus exceeded all other vertebrated animals of the past or present, and was, if we assume a diphyletic origin of the short-necked forms, the most specialized of all plesiosaurs, since in no other genus do we know of any species having as many as fifty cervical vertebrae. But I am rather of the opinion that the short-necked types were descendants of earlier and longer-necked forms. Unless this is the case, we know of no early plesiosaurs which could have been the progenitors of such forms as Polycotylus with twenty-six cervical vertebrae, or Brachauchenius with as few as thirteen. In their paddles, the elasmosaurs were very generalized, in that the epipodials were scarcely broader than long, and their number is but two. In the clavicular arch, Elasmosaurus was specialized, while in the coracoids it seems to have retained generalized characters.

As to the habits of these long-necked plesiosaurs in life, I am satisfied that they were in general scavengers, living largely in shallow waters, as well as often out at sea. Numerous remains were found the past season in Wyoming, in the Upper Cretaceous, associated with longirostral and brevirostral amphicoelian crocodiles, dinosaurs, and lepidosteal fishes, as well as with turtles of marsh or fresh-water habit. And especially noticeable was the large number of immature or quite young animals found in these deposits.

It was with a specimen of an elasmosaur (E. snowii) that Mudge first noticed the occurrence of the peculiar siliceous pebbles which he described ; and it was also with another, a large species yet unnamed,' from the Benton Cretaceous, that the like specimens were found described by me in 1892. That this habit was not confined to this type of plesiosaur, however, is certain, since I have also observed it