Temporal range: Middle Triassic
|An artist's illustration of Tanystropheus conspicuus|
Tanystropheus was a 6 metre (20 ft) long prolacertiform marine reptile that dates from the Middle Triassic period. It is recognisable by its extremely elongated neck, which measured 3 metres (10 ft) long - longer than its body and tail combined. Despite this length, it had only ten neck vertebrae, but each one was quite long. Its fossils have been found in Europe, the Middle East and China. Complete skeletons of juvenile individuals are most abundant in the Besano Formation of Italy, dating to 232 million years ago during the middle Triassic period (Ladinian stage).
With its incredibly long but relatively stiff neck,Tanystropheus has been often proposed and reconstructed as an aquatic or semi-aquatic reptile, a theory supported by the fact that the creature is most commonly found in semiaquatic fossil sites wherein known terrestrial reptile remains are scarce. Tanystropheus is most often considered to have been piscivorous (or 'fish-eating'), due to the presence of a long, narrow snout sporting sharp interlocking teeth. In several young specimens, three-cusped cheek teeth are present in the jaw, which might indicate an insectivorous diet; however, similar teeth patterns have been found in Eudimorphodon and Langobardisaurus, both of whom are considered piscivores. Additionally, hooklets from cephalopod tentacles and what may be fish scales have been found near the belly regions of some specimens.
In popular culture
A small model of Tanystropheus was added to the Safari Ltd.'s popular Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh dinosaur model series, in 2000. The model was green and brown in color with a striking blue underside, and contains a bendable neck; the only model in the series to date with movable parts. In 2007, the model was retired, and re-released with a new colour scheme. The new model is brown with a green neck and head, though with a much yellower hue to the original model. It has yellow stripes.
Tanystropheus was also featured in the BBC Walking With Dinosaurs Special: Sea Monsters, where it was in the Triassic Ocean, walking across the seabed hunting for fish. It was depicted incorrectly with a 'removable' tail, similar to some modern species of lizards. It is still unproven if Tanystropheus could actually shed its tail, though.