Seven years ago, a man from Florence, Montana, was out hunting for elk in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. From what we’ve heard, his hunt was relatively unsuccessful, until he made a remarkable discovery.

Phys.org reports that David Bradt, a ranch manager from Montana, walked down to a canyon to splash water on his face to cool off during his elk hunt, when he noticed something sticking out of the water. At first, Bradt thought it was merely a piece of petrified wood, but when he examined the figure closer, he recognized it was vertebrae, and knew it was fossilized bones.

Bradt snapped some photos and reported his find to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

“It’s about the size of a cow, and I’m thinking it’s a triceratops,” Bradt said.

After a 3-day dig, the fossil was removed from its rocky tomb. It took much longer, however, to clean and study the remains before it was determined that this was a new species of elasmosaur, a prehistoric sea creature that lived 70 million years ago.

New Species

An article published by the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology explains the distinct difference between the fossil Bradt discovered and most elasmosaur types – the length of the neck.

Most elasmosaur had necks that could stretch 18 feet long, but the fossil discovered in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge had a neck that measured only about 7 1/2 feet.

“This group is famous for having ridiculously long necks, I mean necks that have as many as 76 vertebrae, ” said Patrick Druckenmiller, a paleontologist with the University of Alaska Museum of the North. “What absolutely shocked us when we dug it out – it only had somewhere around 40 vertebrae.”

“Elasmosaur were carnivorous creatures with relatively small heads and paddle-shaped limbs that could grow as long as 30 feet. The smaller species – just recently discoverd – lived around the same time and in the same areas as its larger relative, which suggests that elasmosaurs didn’t evolve over millions of years to inherit longer necks,” Danielle Serratos said.

In light of discovering this “new species,” the question begs to be revisited – was this the creature seen in the famous 1934 “surgeon’s photograph,” which is said to be the first ever photo taken of the Loch Ness Monster?

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  • Dan Emmons

    Articles about Paleontology news coming from non-technical news sources tend to be complete garbage, so I found this article refreshingly well-written and scientifically accurate, no referring to Elasmosaurs as “Dinosaurs” (which is worse than calling a firearm’s magazine a ‘clip’) or other faux pas. Well done!

    …right up until the final sentence about Loch Ness. Why Include that? It’s like writing a well-researched article about a hunter’s contributions to Mountain Gorilla conservation, and then finishing it up with “I reckon he done found that dadgum Sasquatch too, but ain’t tellin’ no one about it.”