HELLBENDER
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Plesiosaur Galore: History and Details About One of the World's Greatest Sea Predators
 

For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.  

ON THIS PAGE

Plesiosaur Family History

Reptilian Family Tree

Hellbender: Derivation of the Name

 Notable Biological Characterists

 Scientific Name Cheat Sheet

Plesiosaur
Taxonomy

List of
Genera

 External Links

In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

                       ---Isaiah 26:21, 27:1

A BRIEF FAMILY HISTORY

Reptiles appeared approximately 320 million years ago, during the Carboniferous Period. They rose and diversified during the Permian Period, splitting into two distinct groups with significant differences in the form of their skulls: anapsids (no holes at the temples) and diapsids (holes at the temples). The anapsids died out during the Permian Extinction, though there is some debate ongoing about whether turtles should be classified as anapsid or diapsid; their lack of temple holes would seem to indicate that they are the sole surviving anapsids, but genetic tests have revealed that they are more likely to have evolved more recently, branching off from the diapsid group and adapting a more anapsid-like skull. This could indicate turtles and their relatives are particularly good at adapting.

Conversely, the diapsids further diversified, developing into the lepidosaurs and the archosaurs. The two groups fluorished during the Mesozoic Era; the lepidosaurs would become the lizards, snakes, and tuataras, and the archosaurs would become the dinosaurs, crocodilians, and birds. The dinosaurs came to dominate the land until their demise at the end of the Cretaceous Period; the crocodilians, birds, lizards, snakes, and tuataras survived.

As the diapsids were fluorishing on the land as the Mesozoic Era began, several groups branched off from the lepidosaurs and developed in the ocean. They included the testudines (the turtles), the icthyosaurs (fish-like reptiles), and the sauropterygians (including the plesiosaurs). It is not entirely clear whether all three or any of these groups originated from the lepidosaurs, as opposed to the archosaurs or some other yet-to-be discovered group, but the best genetic evidence suggests that all three radiated from the same origin.

At the close of the Triassic Period, the sauropterygians underwent an extinction, leaving the plesiosaurs as the sole survivors of their group. Through the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods, the plesiosaurs came to dominate the oceans as the dinosaurs dominated the land, though they were rivaled by the mosasaurs, an offshoot of lizards who had reentered the water at the start of the Cretaceous; the icthyosaurs died out before the end of the Mesozoic Era. The turtles survived the Cretaceous Extinction, as did both cartilaginous and bony fish, large and small; as far as we know, the only ocean-dwellers affected by the Cretaceous Extinction, aside from the mosasaurs, were the plesiosaurs.

The plesiosaurs survived two ocean extinctions during the Mesozoic; they became nearly as diverse in the ocean as the dinosaurs were on land. They lived for 180 million years, adapting to dominate an ocean environment. They were unlike anything else on the planet. The meteor that ended the dinosaurs' existence was one of the most destructive events in Earth's geological history, but it left a lot of creatures on land and sea alive that were not as well equipped to survive a mass extinction as the plesiosaur.


REPTILIAN FAMILY TREE

 CLASSIFICATION  HIERARCHY                          

 CARBONIFEROUS

 PERMIAN

 TRIASSIC

 JURASSIC

 CRETACEOUS

 CENOZOIC

 Reptilia  Class

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

     Anapsida  Subclass

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

           Mesosauridae  Order

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

               Millerettidae  Family

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

         Lanthanosuchidae  Clade

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

           Nyctiphruretia  Order

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

               Pareiasauria  Family

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

               Procolophonoidea  Family

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

     Romeriida  Subclass

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

               Captorhinidae  Family

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

               Protorothyrididae  Family

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

       Diapsida  Infraclass

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

         Araeoscalidia  Clade

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

           Younginiformes  Order

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

 Extinct

         Sauria  Clade

---

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

               Lepidosauromorpha       Family:
 lizards, snakes, tuataras

---

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

               Archosauromorpha  Family:
 birds, crocodiles, dinosaurs

---

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

               Testudines  Family:
 Turtles

 ---

 ---

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

               Icthyosauria  Family:
 Icthyosaurs

---

 ---

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Extinct

               Sauropterygia      Family:
 Plesiosaurs

---

---

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive

 Alive?


Hellbender: Derivation of the Name

From Harvard Institute of Zoological Taxonomy, Department of Herpetology, file NeoPle081407, "unclassified sea monster taxon, neo-plesiosaur", submitted by Pedro Torrez, Ph.D., M.S., B.S.; under "Nomenclature Recommendations":

The term "sea monster" could be represented in the name as a descriptive term, as subject essentially confirms this traditional description. Precedent has been established along these lines by the name proposed for the legendary Loch Ness monster: Nessiteras rhombopteryx. Following this pattern, genus name "Pelagiteras" should be considered. Also, though subject is unique by its blood and its respiratory system, the respiratory adaptation has greater implications, so species name should include mention of the lungs. ("Rhombopteryx" is not as appropriate, as the quadrilateral shape of the fins is not as distinctive as the more notable features.) Possible names include "pulmobranchis" ("lung-gill") and "hydropulmis" ("water-lung"). Another possibility: "cryptobranchus" ("hidden-gills"). The latter name is currently in use as the family and genus of giant salamanders in the Eastern United States, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis; however, it seems even more appropriate for this new species. Possibly more significant than any of the subject's physical traits is that it managed to stay hidden from humans for many years. Also, the common name for the giant salamander mentioned is "hellbender," which seems equally appropriate for a slippery, awe-inspiring animal like this. 


PELAGITERAS CRYPTOBRANCHII: The Neo-Plesiosaur

Phylum Chordata, Class Plesiosauria; descended from Elasmosaurus platyurus of the Creatceous Period 

Notable Biological Characteristics


Circulatory System: Species' blood is based on a unique porphyrin hemoglobin construct involving copper instead of iron; animal is the only known vertebrate with green blood. Copper seems to serve as a better electrical conductor and helps stimulte its metabolism. Species seems to have the ability to monitor and modulate its energy, using the added electrical influx in its blood to recharge itself in measured amounts and store and distribute fuel energy as needed, which enables it to function more efficiently, more like an industrial machine than a typical animal. Species has a secondary heart muscle located beneath its cerebellum, which helps keep blood flow constant around the brain despite an extended distance along the elongated neck between the brain and an enlarged primary heart muscle in the chest.

Respiratory System: Species has specialized dual functioning, with two lungs adapted to harvest oxygen from the seawater by using pulmonary muscles to force the water rapidly over the alveoli at an absorbtion rate sufficient to allow the animal to remain underwater indefinitely. The larger anterior lung serves as a cycling water-to-blood interface, coupled with bladder organs that serve as bellows, while the smaller posterior lung serves as an oxygen reservoir for long-term storage.

Digestive System: Species uses a chemically contained mixture involving sulfuric acid, which aids in the consumption of dense mineral materials incorporating copper. Copper is a necessary component of its blood, and it seems to play an important role in the animal's metabolic energy modulation.

Musculoskeletal System: Musculature envelopes the species' entire skeleton, woven in an intricate and highly coordinated helical pattern somewhat like twisted, elongated chain links. A layer of collagen fibers and a subdermal sheath of connective tissue provide elasticity and create a passive form of spring-loaded propulsion. The bone structure is extremely dense and is dominated by the solid shell of its ribcage, which encloses the organs of the torso entirely and functions as an internal carapace, with the bones of the limbs firmly affixed with embedded ball-socket joints allowing added maneuverability without compromising structural support. Each of the four limbs ends in a quadrilateral fin, angular and streamlined to maximize locomotion efficiency in a water environment. The bone composition contains higher levels of collagen and metal than seen in other species, and is capable of withstanding drastic changes in pressure. The skeleton is flexible enough to allow for compression and decompression, and size variance of the organs contained within. Species has powerful neck musculature and surprising flexibility along the spine of its neck vertebrae, allowing it an almost unlimited range of motion.

Sensory Systems: Species has highly specialized sensory organs it uses in predation and defense. An echolocation organ along the sinus shaft transmits sonic pulses it uses to triangulate and identify prey and competitors, by receiving sonic echo feedback in neuromasts along its lower jaw. Lamella chemoreceptors in the tissues of the species' mouth provide for a highly specialized olfactory system. Osteoderms in the species' skin provide for constant temperature modulation. The epidermis contains chromatophores that give the animal the ability to manipulate the colors of its skin in complex patterns.


HELLBENDER SPECIES COMPARISON:
A SCIENTIFIC NAMES CHEAT SHEET

Cryptobranchus salamandroides:
Scientific name assigned to a species of large aquatic salamanders known commonly as hellbenders (Leuckart, 1821). The name of the genus was based on the animal's internal gills, which distinguished it from other salamander species, whose gills were observed to be external. The name of the species, "salamandroides," reflects that it was originally considered to be different from other salamanders; it has since been reclassified as "Cryptobranchus alleganiensis" and is now the only species of its genus. [NLat. Cryptobranchus salamandroides, "salamander-like animal with hidden gills": Cryptobranchus, genus name (NLat. < crypto < Gk. kruptos, hidden + Lat. branchus < Gk. branchion, gill) + salamandroides, species name (Lat. < Gk. salamandra, salamander + Gk. oides, like, resembling).]

Elasmosaurus platyurus: Scientific name assigned to the largest species of marine reptiles of the extinct superfamily Plesiosauroidea, known commonly as plesiosaurs (Cope, 1868); an animal noted for its long neck and common in Europe and North America during the Mesozoic Era. The name of the species was based on a misidentification of flat neck vertebrae as the tail. [NLat. Elasmosaurus platyurus, "metal-plated lizard with a flat tail": Elasmosaurus, genus name (NLat. < Lat. elasmo < Gk. elasmos, metal plate + Lat. saurus < Gk. sauros, lizard) + platyurus, species name (Gk. platus, broad, flat + NLat. < Lat. uro < Gk. oura, tail).]

Nessiteras rhombopteryx: Scientific name proposed in 1975 by Sir Peter Scott and Dr. Robert Rines for an unidentified animal alleged to live in Loch Ness, a lake in northern Scotland. While meeting the standards set by the International Code for Zoological Nomenclature, the name is also an anagram of the phrase "monster hoax by Sir Peter S." [NLat. Nessiteras rhombopteryx, "diamond-finned monster of Ness": Nessiteras, proposed genus name (Ness after Loch Ness, lake of north central Scotland + i + Gk. teras, monster) + rhombopteryx, proposed species name (NLat. < Gk. rhombos, diamond shape + Gk. pterux, bird, wing).]

Pelagiteras cryptobranchii: Scientific name assigned to a species of large aquatic reptiles discovered in the Caribbean Sea (Torrez, 2007); an animal descended from the extinct prehistoric reptile Elasmosaurus platyurus, characterized by a long, flexible neck, four diamond-shaped fins; a modern plesiosaur, the only species of the class Plesiosauria. [NLat. Pelagiteras cryptobranchii, "monster of the sea with hidden gills": Pelagiteras, genus name (NLat. < Lat. pelagicus < Gk. pelagikos, sea + Gk. teras, monster) + cryptobranchii, species name (NLat. < Lat. crypto < Gk. kruptos, hidden + Lat. branchus < Gk. branchion, gill).]


CLASSIFICATION OF PLESIOSAURS: HIERARCHY OF THE FAMILIES

Plesiosaurs are far more diverse than most people give them credit for; they are often erroneously lumped in with the dinosaurs, referred to sometimes as a long-necked aquatic dinosaur as if they were a single species. In reality, there were nearly as many species of plesiosaur as there were dinosaurs... they evolved separately through the entire Mesozoic Era, and became equally dominant and well-adapted in the water as the dinosaurs were on land. They grew larger, with longer necks, through the ages, populating the seas and transorming from small seal-like fish-eating species like attenborosaurus to the huge alpha-predator elasmosaurs of the Cretaceous Period that inspire terror in the human imagination.

The table below lists genera in a classification scheme of selected plesiosaur genera according to F.R. O'Keefe in 2001. The scheme has varied over the years. The authors of each different taxonomic grouping and the first year of its establishment appear in parentheses, though many of the groupings have changed since their inital identification.


Superorder Sauropterygia
 Order Plesiosauria
 Suborder Pliosauroidea
 Suborder Plesiosauroidea (Gray, 1825)
 Superfamily Plesiopterys (O'Keefe, 2004)
 Family Plesiosauridae (Gray, 1825)
 Attenborosaurus (Bakker, 1993)
 Plesiosaurus (De la Beche & Conybeare, 1821)
 Family Euplesiosauria (O'Keefe, 2001)
 Sthenarosaurus (Watson, 1911)
 Eretmosaurus (Seeley, 1874)
 Leurospondylus (Brown, 1913)
 Nichollssaura (Druckenmiller & Russell, 2008)
 Superfamily Cryptoclidoidea (Williston, 1925)
 Family Cryptoclididae (Williston, 1925)
 Tatenectes (O’Keefe & Wahl, 2003)
 Colymbosaurus (Seeley, 1874)
 Cryptocleidus (Seeley, 1892)
 Muraenosaurus (Seeley, 1874)
 Pantosaurus (Marsh, 1891)
 Vinialesaurus (Gasparini, Bardet & Iturralde-Vinent, 2002)
 Superfamily Tricleidia (O'Keefe, 2001)
 Family Tricledidae Nova
 Tricleidus (Andrews, 1909)
 Family Cimoliasauridae (Delair, 1959)
 Aristonectes (Cabrea, 1941)
 Kaiwhekea (Cruickshank & Fordyce, 2002)
 Kimmerosaurus (Brown, 1981)
 Cimoliasaurus (Leidy, 1851)
 Family Polycotylidae (Williston, 1909)
 Dolichorhynchops (Willison, 1903)
 Edgarosaurus (Druckenmiller, 2002)
 Georgiasaurus (Otschev, 1978)
 Manemergus (Buchy, Metayer, & Frey, 2005)
 Polycotylus (Cope, 1869)
 Sulcusuchus (Gasparini & Spalletti, 1990)
 Thililua (Bardet, Pereda Suberbiola & Jalil, 2003)
 Trinacromerum (Cragin, 1888)
 Family Elasmosauridae (Cope, 1869)
 Aphrosaurus (Welles, 1943)
 Brancasaurus (Wegner, 1914)
 Callawayasaurus (Carpenter, 1999)
 Elasmosaurus (Cope, 1869)
 Fresnosaurus (Welles, 1943)
 Futabasaurus (Sato, Hasegawa & Manabe, 2006)
 Goniosaurus (Meyer, 1860)
 Hydrotherosaurus (Welles, 1943)
 Hydralmosaurus (Welles, 1943)
 Libonectes (Carpenter, 1997)
 Mauisaurus (Hector, 1874)
 Microcleidus (Watson, 1911)
 Morenosaurus (Welles, 1943)
 Occitanosaurus (Bardet, Godefroit & Sciau, 1999)
 Ogmodirus (Williston & Moodie, 1913)
 Orophosaurus (Cope, 1887)
 Piptomerus (Cope, 1887)
 Styxosaurus (Welles, 1943)
 Terminonatator (Sato, 2003)
 Thalassomedon (Welles, 1943)
 Tuarangisaurus (Wiffen & Moisley, 1986)
 Woolungasaurus (Persson, 1960)

 

A LIST OF ALL KNOWN PLESIOSAUR GENERA

Established plesiosaur species number over a thousand; below are all the known genera, some of which are unofficial and some of which are redundant. Included also are temporary names given to species that were unusable due to the name having already been given to another plant or animal genus. Names that were published erroneously are given as well.

Unofficial: Genus has not yet been confirmed as distinct.
Junior synonym: Subsequent name given to already established genus.
Preoccupied genus: Name was already in use for another plant or animal.
Erroneous: Name is spelled wrong.

Alzadasaurus (unofficial)

Mauisaurus

Anarosaurus

Megalneusaurus

Apatomerus

Megalosaurus (preoccupied dinosaur genus; unofficial)

Aphrosaurus

Microcleidus

Apractocleidus (junior synonym of Cryptocleidus)

Morenosaurus

Aptychodon

Morturneria

Archaeonectrus

Muraenosaurus

Aristonectes

Nichollsia (preoccupied isopod genus; Nichollssaura)

Attenborosaurus

Nichollssaura

Attenborosaurus

Occitanosaurus

Augustasaurus

Ogmodirus

Bathyspondylus

Opallionectes

Bishanopliosaurus

Orophosaurus

Bobosaurus

Pachycostasaurus

Borealonectes

Pahasapasaurus

Brachauchenius

Palmula (preoccupied foraminifer genus; Palmulasaurus)

Branacasaurus (erroneous; Brancasaurus)

Palmulasaurus

Brancasaurus

Pantosaurus

Brimosaurus

Peloneustes

Callawayasaurus

Pentatarstostinus

Ceraunosaurus (junior synonym; Trinacromerum)

Peyerus (junior synonym; Leptocleidus)

Charitosaurus

Picrocleidus (junior synonym; Muraenosaurus)

Chinchenia

Piptomerus

Cimoliasaurus

Piratosaurus

Colymbosaurus

Plesioliopleurodon (erroneous; Plesiopleurodon)

Crymocetus

Plesiopleurodon

Cryptocleidus

Plesiopterys

Cymatosaurus

Plesiosaurus

Dactylosaurus

Pliosaurus

Deirosaurus

Polycotylus

Discosaurus

Polyptychodon

Dolichorhynchops

Procotylus

Dravidosaurus

Rhomaleosaurus

Edgarosaurus

Scanisaurus

Elasmosaurus

Seeleyosaurus

Eopolycotylus

Seeleysaurus (erroneous; Seelyosaurus)

Eretmosaurus

Simolestes

Eridanosaurus

Sinopliosaurus

Eromangasaurus

Spondylosaurus (junior synonym; Pliosaurus)

Eurycleidus

Stereosaurus

Eurysaurus

Sthenarosaurus

Fresnosaurus

Stretosaurus (junior synonym; Liopleurodon)

Futabasaurus

Strongylokrotaphus (junior synonym; Pliosaurus)

Gallardosaurus

Styxosaurus

Georgia (preoccupied mollusk genus; unofficial)

Sulcusuchus

Georgiasaurus

Taphrosaurus

Goniosaurus

Tapinosaurus

Hauffiosaurus

Tatenectes (unofficial)

Hexatarsostinus

Terminonatator

Hydralmosaurus

Thalassiodracon

Hydrorion

Thalassiosaurus (junior synonym; Styxosaurus)

Hydrotherosaurus

Thalassomedon

Hyrorion

Thalassonomosaurus (junior synonym; Styxosaurus)

Ischyrodon

Thaumatosaurus (unofficial)

Kaiwhekea

Thililua

Kimmerosaurus

Trememesacleis (junior synonym; Muraenosaurus)

Kronosaurus

Tricleidus

Kronosaurus.

Trinacromerum

Leptocleidus

Tuarangisaurus

Leurospondylus

Turneria (preoccupied ant genus; unofficial)

Libonectes

Umoonasaurus

Liopleurodon

Uronautes

Luetkesaurus

Vinialesaurus

Macroplata

Woolungasaurus

Manemergus

Yuzhoupliosaurus

Maresaurus

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