cover image Ancient Sea Reptiles: Plesiosaurs, Ichthyosaurs, Mosasaurs and More

Ancient Sea Reptiles: Plesiosaurs, Ichthyosaurs, Mosasaurs and More

Darren Naish. Smithsonian, $29.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-58834-727-5

Paleontologist Naish (Dinopedia) delivers an entertaining survey of prehistoric marine reptiles, exploring the evolution, morphology, and behavior of the reptiles’ five main groups: “The shark-shaped ichthyosaurs, the (mostly) long-necked plesiosaurs, the crocodile-like thalattosuchians or sea crocs, the giant swimming lizards known as mosasaurs, and the sea turtles.” Expounding on theories about the abilities and socialization of these creatures, Naish relates that mosasaurs may have used venom stored in their jaws to weaken prey, that broken fossilized bones may be proof that ichthyosaurs fought one another, and that the 15-foot long sea turtle Archelon may have used their narrow snouts to suck mollusks out of their shells. Naish highlights such stranger-than-fiction creatures as Henodus, which had a turtle-like shell and teeth resembling whale baleen, and Hescheleria, whose “strongly downcurved snout” resembles the nose of a proboscis monkey. Readers will appreciate Naish’s evenhanded treatment of scientific disputes, such as when he explains disagreements around whether rocks swallowed by plesiosaurs helped with buoyancy or digestion, and discusses divergent perspectives on how closely thalattosuchians are related to the ancestors of modern crocodiles. Vivid illustrations, diagrams, and photos of fossils provide further detail. The result is an invigorating blast from the past. Photos. (Feb.)