This bizarre animal was not a dinosaur. Tanystropheus was a long-necked reptile that dates from the middle to late Triassic period. It looked like a lizard with an incredibly long neck. Three quarters of Tanystropheus’ body length was its neck and tail. Its neck was 10 feet long, which is longer than its body and tail put together.
The neck had only ten vertebrae that were so long, that when they were first discovered, they were assumed to be bones from the leg. Some of the neck bones were over one foot wide. Because the bones were so large, the neck was rather stiff but somewhat flexible.
Tanystropheus walked on four legs and had a snap-off tail that would grow back, like some modern day lizards. This helped it escape being eaten by larger carnivorous dinosaurs of that time.
Tanystropheus was a carnivore. On land, it ate insects and small reptiles. In the water, it fed on fish and ammonites. It is believed that Tanystropheus was not a fast swimmer and often walked along the seabed, using its long neck to get within range of prey without being noticed. The long snout, with sharp, interlocking teeth, is similar to some sauropterygians.
In some fossils specimens, hooklets of cephalopods and perhaps fish scales were found close to or in the belly region. It is believed that Tanystropheus hunted by ambush, because its odd design made it generally slow moving, but perhaps able to make quick sudden spurts of motion to catch prey.
Tanystropheus may have spent a lot of time on the water, but its body wasn’t really adapted for swimming or walking. It may have lived on the shore (either in water or on land) and fished with its long neck and head!
Its feet were long and possibly webbed, but with the absence of other adaptations it’s possible that Tanystropheus was more semi-aquatic, like freshwater turtles. Fossils of Tanystropheus have been found in Europe and the Middle East. The first Tanystropheus fossil was discovered and named by von Meyer in 1855.
It is believed Tanystropheus is an ancestor of our present day lizards and lived in herds near marshes
Lydia King is a huge animal lover and has always been fascinated with learning about the animal kingdom. She enjoys writing about anything animal related from scientific information about rare species to animal references in pop culture.