Scientists announced Friday that they have discovered the fossilized remains of a 240-million-year-old water-dwelling reptile dubbed the ‘Chinese dragon.’

The ancient creature was named because of its long, snake-like appearance – as well as the fact that the Scottish team behind the discovery found it in China.

Though the fossilized skeleton was found curled up, measurements indicated that the creature was probably about five meters long, or 16.4 feet from nose to tail.

Its bones were not the only ones in the paleontological find, though.

The well-preserved bones of fish were also found in its stomach region, suggesting that it was an aquatic predator. 

Scientists have named the prehistoric creature Dinocephalosaurus orientalis. The first name means ‘terrible-headed lizard,’ and the second part refers to the fact that it was found in East Asia

The creature, whose scientific name is Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, had an extraordinarily long neck.

Scientists counted a whopping 32 separate neck vertebrae bones.

Nick Fraser, keeper of natural sciences at National Museums Scotland, told BBC News that the specimen is ‘a very strange animal.’ 

For comparison, most mammals have just seven neck vertebrae, and even the famously long-necked dinosaur brachiosaurus had just 13.

This unique anatomy made the animal’s neck longer than its body and its tail combined. 

With its long neck, Dinocephalosaurus orientalis draws a comparison to another strange marine reptile called Tanystropheus hydroides, scientists said.

This prehistoric beast lived at the same time – the Middle Triassic – in modern-day Europe and China.

‘Both reptiles were of similar size and have several features of the skull in common, including a fish-trap type of dentition,’ according to a statement. ‘However, Dinocephalosaurus is unique in possessing many more vertebrae both in the neck and in the torso, giving the animal a much more snake-like appearance.’

Scientists suspect that the Chinese dragon was a stealth hunter. Previous evidence suggests that the reptile gave live birth, unlike most reptiles

Scientists suspect that the Chinese dragon was a stealth hunter. Previous evidence suggests that the reptile gave live birth, unlike most reptiles

Scientists suspect that the Chinese dragon was a stealth hunter. Previous evidence suggests that the reptile gave live birth, unlike most reptiles

The Chinese dragon was originally identified in 2003, but it was not until now that scientists had witnessed the true length of it, as several fewer vertebrae were found with that initial excavation.

In addition to the long neck and the belly full of fish, D. orientalis also appeared to have flippers.

Scientists suspect that it was a stealthy hunter, sneaking up on its prey before snatching them with its mouth full of sharp teeth.

Even though it bears a strong resemblance to the long-necked pleisiosaurs that lived about 40 million years later – and which provided the inspiration for the loch ness monster – scientists said it was actually not closely related.

This is the holotype of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, a well-preserved specimen that shows off its features so clearly that other identifications can be made based on it. The animal's sharp teeth, which extend beyond its jaw, were clearly adept at snatching prey.

This is the holotype of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, a well-preserved specimen that shows off its features so clearly that other identifications can be made based on it. The animal's sharp teeth, which extend beyond its jaw, were clearly adept at snatching prey.

This is the holotype of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, a well-preserved specimen that shows off its features so clearly that other identifications can be made based on it. The animal’s sharp teeth, which extend beyond its jaw, were clearly adept at snatching prey.

The well-preserved remains of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis show its long neck, complete with 32 vertebrae. This aquatic reptile's neck was longer than its tail and body combined.

The well-preserved remains of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis show its long neck, complete with 32 vertebrae. This aquatic reptile's neck was longer than its tail and body combined.

The well-preserved remains of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis show its long neck, complete with 32 vertebrae. This aquatic reptile’s neck was longer than its tail and body combined.

‘This discovery allows us to see this remarkable long-necked animal in full for the very first time,’ said Nick Fraser, keeper of natural sciences at National Museums Scotland, in a statement.

‘It is yet one more example of the weird and wonderful world of the Triassic that continues to baffle paleontologists.

‘We are certain that it will capture imaginations across the globe due to its striking appearance, reminiscent of the long and snake-like, mythical Chinese Dragon.’

One fascinating feature of this animal that has already captured imaginations is the fact that it seemed to give live birth.

In 2017, Chinese scientists discovered a fossil of this same species with another entire intact individual inside its rib cage.

Another view of the 'Chinese dragon's' remains show its extraordinarily long neck, which scientists suspect it used to creep up on its prey without them detecting the movement of its flippers.

Another view of the 'Chinese dragon's' remains show its extraordinarily long neck, which scientists suspect it used to creep up on its prey without them detecting the movement of its flippers.

Another view of the ‘Chinese dragon’s’ remains show its extraordinarily long neck, which scientists suspect it used to creep up on its prey without them detecting the movement of its flippers.

A closeup of the animal's flippers show that it was at home in the water. Despite being a reptile and breathing air, this species, much like sea turtles, lived in the water.

A closeup of the animal's flippers show that it was at home in the water. Despite being a reptile and breathing air, this species, much like sea turtles, lived in the water.

A closeup of the animal’s flippers show that it was at home in the water. Despite being a reptile and breathing air, this species, much like sea turtles, lived in the water.

Its head was facing forward, which meant it wasn’t eaten – most predators eat their prey head-first, to make it go down more easily.

This discovery turned what scientists knew about reptiles on its head, providing previously unavailable evidence on the animal group’s reproductive biology.

For the new find, an international team from Scotland, Germany, China, and the US had studied the fossil for a decade before announcing their findings, which were published today in Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The find highlights how rich the fossil evidence is in China, Fraser told BBC.

‘And every time we look in these deposits, we find something new.’ 

This post first appeared on Dailymail.co.uk

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