An international team of researchers has discovered the fossils of Xenodens Calminechari, an extinct marine reptile with “shark-like cutting teeth” that lived in modern-day Morocco millions of years ago.
The lizard-like creature was a mosasaur — a term defining a group of extinct large marine reptiles — which existed during the Maastrichtian time period, 72 million to 66 million years ago.
The group of researchers that made the discovery included academics from Morocco, France, the Netherlands, and the UK. They published a paper about the fossils on January 16 in the scientific journal “Cretaceous Research.”
The paleontologists found the remains of the extinct reptile in the Ouled Abdoun phosphate basin, west of the Middle Atlas mountains.
The extinct marine reptile’s name includes two parts: “Xenodens,” meaning “strange tooth” in Greek, and “Calminechari,” the phonetic transcription of “like a saw” in Arabic.
The use of an Arabic expression in the species’ name pays tribute to the location of the discovery and the Moroccan scientist who contributed to it—Noureddine Jalil from the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech.
The paleontologists believe Xenodens Calminechari’s teeth are completely unique, “unlike those of any known reptile.”
“Teeth form a unique dental battery in which short, laterally compressed and hooked teeth formed a saw-like blade […] The specialized dentition implies a previously-unknown feeding strategy, likely involving a cutting motion used to carve pieces out of large prey, or in scavenging,” the paper’s abstract explained.
Thanks to its unique teeth, the scientists believe, Xenodens Calminechari was seemingly able to tackle prey much larger than the reptile itself.
The new discovery proves once again that Morocco is a must-visit destination for paleontologists and archaeologists from all over the world.
Over the years, researchers have discovered the remains of many previously-unknown species in Morocco. In 2017, archaeologists found the oldest fossils of Homo Sapiens, dating back to 40,000 years ago, in Jebel Irhoud, near the Atlantic Coast.