Thalassotitan atrox, a giant predatory mosasaurid (Squamata) from the upper Maastrichtian phosphates of Morocco

Nicholas R. Longrich, Nour Eddine Jalil, Fatima Khaldoune, Oussama Khadiri Yazami, Xabier Pereda-Suberbiola, Nathalie Bardet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) transition saw mass extinctions in terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Terrestrial vertebrate diversity patterns across the K–Pg boundary have seen extensive study, but less is known about marine vertebrates. We describe a new mosasaurid from the latest Maastrichtian phosphatic beds of Morocco, showing how mosasaurids evolved to become apex predators in the latest Cretaceous. Thalassotitan atrox gen. et sp. nov., from the Oulad Abdoun Basin of Khouribga Province, Morocco is characterized by large size, a broad skull, massive jaws, and reduced cranial kinesis, suggesting it was highly adapted for carnivory. Teeth resemble those of killer whales in their robust, conical shape, and show heavy wear and damage. Phylogenetic analysis recovers Thalassotitan as a close relative of Prognathodon currii and P. saturator within the Prognathodontini. Among the associated fauna, three genera of mosasaurids, elasmosaurid plesiosaur, chelonioid turtle, and enchodontid fish show acid damage, and could be prey ingested by mosasaurids, likely Thalassotitan. Thalassotitan shows mosasaurids evolved to fill the marine apex predator niche, a niche occupied by orcas and white sharks today. Mosasaurs continued to diversify and fill new niches until their extinction at the end of the Cretaceous.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105315
JournalCretaceous Research
Volume140
Early online date23 Sep 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Sep 2022

Keywords

  • Africa
  • K–Pg extinction
  • Maastrichtian
  • Mosasauridae
  • Mosasaurinae
  • Squamata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Palaeontology

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