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Prehistoric marine reptiles move into the Beijing Museum of Natural History

Truth is stranger than fiction, and nature has come up with some beasties that are more monstrous than any creatures Hollywood could come up with. For example, step into the Beijing Museum of Natural History, where an ongoing exhibition gives new life to creatures that lived here more than 200 million years ago.

13710811_11nThe 500-square-meter exhibition of Triassic marine reptiles includes the remains of a pregnant Ichthyosaurus from the southwestern part of China, which 200 million years ago was a vast ocean. Among the "sea monsters" on display is the biggest and best-preserved marine reptile ever discovered in China, a Shastasaurus skeleton that is nearly 100-percent complete, including its meter-long skull that incredibly survived the millennia in one piece.

There is a complete fossil of a Lystrosaurus, a dog-like reptile that existed in the early Triassic period 250 to 200 million years ago, and is about a meter long and, honestly, kind of cute. It was a vegetarian and lived near the water.

Fearful creatures are also displayed, like the Vjushkovia, a huge creature with sharp teeth, and the Qianosuchus Mixtus, a ferocious amphibious predator that could grow at about three meters long. A type of Archosaur, it had strong limbs and could walk as well as swim.

Most of the Ichthyosaurus fossils here were excavated from Yunnan and Guizhou provinces.

If Shastasaurus is one of the largest fossils in this exhibition, then the 2-centimeters baby Icthyosaurus is one of the smallest. The Chaohu Ichthyosaurus that was discovered in Chaohu, Anhui Province is only about one meter long and is the oldest Ichthyosaurus of its kind so far discovered. Other small marine lives such as ancient shrimp, sea chestnuts and different kinds of fish can also be seen here.

Here I also found Psephochelys Polyosteoderma, the ancient animal that looks a bit like today's turtle but did not have a plastron. It had a heavy, thick carapace and a flat, elliptoid month that allowed it to protect itself from larger predators and crunch its small prey easily.

In front of these eye-catching fossils from ancient China, one little disappointment could be its lack of explanation. Ms Jiao and her 5-year-old son came for a quick tour and wished there was someone to tell them about the creatures. "We have never seen all these marine creatures before so we don't know if they are just the dinosaurs we normally talk about?" she said, with a question mark.

Another visitor named Wang brought his son for some educational fun, but the giant prehistoric creature skeletons were not quite entertaining enough for him.

"It's our first time to see all these, which is fun," admitted Wang, "yet it's rather bland because everything here is just fossils."

He was hoping to see something like a 3-D video of sea monsters, or some kind of interactive marine reptile game.

"Also, are these fossils all original?" he asked. "I mean they just look too real to be true to me!"

Author: Yin Yeping | Source: Xinhua News Agency © [January 28, 2011]


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