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Nothosaurs were long-necked, long-tailed, fish-eating reptiles ranging from a few inches to 20 feet (6 m) long - they were not dinosaurs. Nothosaurs had four wide, paddle-like limbs with webbed fingers and toes. These reptiles had a long, thin head with many sharp teeth; the front teeth were longer than the back teeth. The nostrils were on the top end of the snout. They breathed air but spent most of the time in the water.
Examples of Nothosaurs include:
WHEN NOTHOSAURS LIVED
- Nothosaurus was about 10 feet (3 m) long and had a long, thin, pointed tail with a fin on its upper portion. This tail must have been used for swimming. It had five long, webbed toes. The forelimbs were shorter than the rear limbs. It lived during the entire Triassic period. Fossils have been found in what is now Europe (Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland), North Africa, and Asia (China, Israel, and Russia).
- Lariosaurus was small, about 0.75-2 feet (20-60cm) long. It had a shorter neck and stubbier toes than other Nothosaurs. This must have limited its swimming ability. It had a streamlined body and a long, pointed tail. The back legs had five webbed toes with claws; its front legs were paddle-like flippers. It lived during the middle Triassic period. Fossils from the mid-Triassic period have been found in Europe.
- Ceresiosaurus was about 13 feet (4 m) long. It had longer toes than the other Nothosaurus, and more bones in each of the toes (hyperphalangy). This made the limbs very flipper-like, and Ceresiosaurus must have been a very good swimmer - almost like a plesiosaur. It lived during the mid-Triassic period. Fossils have been found in Europe.
- Pistosaurus - was about 10 feet (3 m) long with a very long neck, four long, paddle-shaped flippers, a streamlined body, and many sharp, pointed teeth in long jaws. From Europe (France and Germany) during the mid-Triassic period.
Nothosaurs lived during the Triassic period, and went extinct during the late Triassic period. They may have evolved into the plesiosaurs.
Contemporaries of Nothosaurs during the Triassic period included the swimming marine reptiles Askeptosaurus and the ichthyosaurs Mixosaurus and Ophthalmosaurus. Primitive dinosaurs like Herrerasaurus, Eoraptor, Staurikosaurus, and Lesothosaurus were just beginning to appear at that time.
Nothosaurs breathed air and lived on land but were able to swim in the water with their paddle-like limbs. They probably laid their eggs on land but hunted and ate in the sea.
Nothosaurs ate fish and other small swimming animals like shrimp. They fished using their sharp teeth and long snout.
Nothosaurs could walk on four legs and also swim using their paddle-like limbs with webbed digits (fingers and toes) and long tail.
Nothosaurs were reptiles but not dinosaurs. They are classified as:
DISCOVERY OF FOSSILS
- Diapsida - these include all the reptiles (except turtles) and birds. They are distinguished by having two holes in the rear upper part of their skulls and two holes behind the eyes.
- Sauropterygia (which includes both nothosaurs and plesiosaurs).
- Order Nothosauria - (fish-eating marine reptiles with long necks and tails, and shortened, flipper-like forelimbs).
- Family Nothosauridae (which includes Nothosaurus, Lariosaurus, Ceresiosaurus, etc.).
Nothosaurs were named by G. von Meunster in 1834. Juvenile (young) nothosaur fossils have been found in beach and cave sediment from Europe, Asia, and North and South Africa.
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