Picture of a dolichorhynchops

Because Dolichorhynchops swallowed its prey whole but could only gulp small prey, it probably had to eat a lot of fish to get the energy it needed to survive the Cretaceous seas.

Copyright © MMVII NGHT, Inc.

Fast Facts

Up to 15 ft (4.6 m)
Did you know?
Modern mammals, including humans and giraffes, have seven neck vertebrae. Dolichorhynchops had more than 20.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man

Please add a "relative" entry to your dictionary.

Dolichorhynchops was a short-necked plesiosaur that used long, paddle-like flippers to fly through the water like a penguin. The marine reptiles were quick and agile underwater acrobats, with large eyes well adapted to spying small prey. Long, narrow jaws filled with 30 to 40 sharp teeth in a single row allowed Dolichorhynchops to grab its prey but not cut it. Instead, the captured fish were swallowed whole.

Dolichorhynchops grew 12 to 15 feet (4 to 5 meters) long and was probably covered in smooth skin. Its winglike paddles were constructed of almost a hundred tightly packed bones, making them too stiff for use on land but excellent for swimming fast. Though the creatures may have been able to dive deeply in search of prey, the need to breathe air meant most of their time was spent near the water's surface.

The short-necked plesiosaur likely had few enemies, but those that attacked were some of the fiercest monsters of the seas, including sharks with razor-sharp teeth and the giant mosasaur Tylosaurus. One famous Tylosaurus fossil contains the remains of a juvenile Dolichorhynchops inside. And Dolichorhynchops fossils have been found with unborn babies inside, strong evidence they gave birth to live young.

Prehistoric Features

  • Picture of carnotaurus

    Bizarre Dinosaurs

    A bizarre gallery of Mesozoic monsters prompts John Updike to ask: What has evolution wrought?

  • Picture of dimorphodon flying across the forest in a scene from the movie Flying Monsters 3D

    Flying Monsters 3D

    Could flying monsters have existed? With cutting-edge 3-D filming technology and CGI, Flying Monsters 3D recreates spectacular pterosaurs and brings these giant flying creatures to life.

  • Picture of dinosaurs during the Jurassic era

    Prehistoric World

    Discover and explore prehistoric times with galleries, time lines, quizzes, and more.

  • Picture of a theoretical scene of the mass extinction of dinosaurs

    Mass Extinctions

    More than 90 percent of all organisms that have ever lived on Earth are extinct. Learn how millions of creatures can disappear in a geological blink of an eye—and see what might be next.

Animals A-Z