A new genus and species of long-neck plesiosaur from the Arctic: Author interview with Aubrey Roberts

Last week we published A new plesiosaurian from the Jurassic–Cretaceous transitional interval of the Slottsmøya Member (Volgian), with insights into the cranial anatomy of cryptoclidids using computed tomography

The research describes the exciting discovery of a new genus and species of long-neck plesiosaur from the Arctic, Ophthalmothule cryostea. Here we talk to author Aubrey Roberts about the specimen and why it was dubbed ‘Britney’.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Aubrey Roberts. Photo by Victoria Engelschiøn

I am a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Oslo, Natural History Museum (Norway). My research is on fossil marine reptiles that lived in the seas when dinosaurs roamed on land, during the Mesozoic Era.

For my PhD, I worked on a group of long-necked, four-flippered reptiles called plesiosaurs. One of these plesiosaurs I worked on is described in this article. However, right now I am working on describing ecosystems from the Early Triassic to find out more about how the Earth recovered after mass-extinctions. My plesiosaur research and my new project, has taken me on six expeditions to the Arctic to collect fossils.

Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?

This research describes a new genus and species of plesiosaur from the latest Jurassic – earliest Cretaceous. The species is called Ophthalmothule cryostea meaning North eye and frozen bones. The reasoning behind the name is the fact that the specimen is from the permafrost of the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, and had pretty big eyes.

The special thing about this specimen is that it has an almost complete skull, a rare thing for that type of plesiosaur. Because of this, we used computed tomography to help describe the fragile skull, resulting in some pretty cool 3D images. This also led us to see parts of the internal structures of the skull, not visible on the outside. The specimen was a large plesiosaur but had a tiny head, 5-5.5m long, with a skull barely over 20 cm long, imagine that. Ophthalmothule cryostea is one of five species of long-necked plesiosaur described from the latest Jurassic – earliest Cretaceous Slottsmøya Member from Svalbard.

Do you have any anecdotes about this research?

As far as anecdotes go, I would read the story of the excavation of this specimen (from 2012) on our blog at National Geographic. It was pretty muddy and we had terrible weather most of the expedition. I would recommend this one for atmosphere. We had to sing pop songs to keep motivated, and so the specimen was dubbed “Britney” as a result.

After twelve hours of digging, a group portrait was necessary to commemorate the achievement. Photo by Erik Tunstad

What kind of lessons do you hope your readers take away from the research?

A reconstruction of Ophthalmothule cryostea in its natural environment. Illustration by Esther van Hulsen

The major take-home messages from this research are:

  • We have a new genus and species of long-neck plesiosaur from the Arctic, Ophthalmothule cryostea.
  • This specimen is important for understanding the skull of a nearly “skull-less” family of plesiosaurs, and that we have used CT scanning to get internal views of the skull. This has uncovered features that we have later seen in other species where parts of the skull are preserved.
  • This increases the known diversity of the Slottsmøya Member Lagerstätten to five species of long-necked plesiosaur.
How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

I have followed PeerJ’s progress ever since it was launched and wanted to submit one of my PhD papers. I am an open access advocate and I like the layout and wide scope of the journal.

Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit?

I would recommend PeerJ to colleagues that want open access, have a longer article and/or want a nice layout for their paper. I would submit again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Aubrey! Read her full paper here.

You can find more PeerJ author interviews here. View related research in PeerJ’s Paleontology and Evolutionary Science section.

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