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World’s first plant-eating marine reptile

Artist's representation of Atopodentatus unicus

A crocodile-sized “hammerhead” creature that lived 242 million years ago in today’s southern China, may have been the earliest known example of a plant-eating marine reptile, say researchers.

Scientists say that the fossil’s hammerhead-shaped jaw apparatus was used to feed on plants on the ocean floor.
The reptile’s name, Atopodentatus unicus, is Latin for “unique strangely toothed”. Along the edge of its wide hammerhead jaw, it had peg-like teeth. Further into its mouth, it had bunches of needle-like teeth. It used the peg-like front teeth to scrape plants off of rocks on the sea floor, and then it opened its mouth and sucked in the bits of plant material. Then, it used its needle-like teeth as a sieve, trapping the plants and letting the water back out.
The jaw structure is clearly that of an herbivore. It has similarities to other marine animals that ate plants with a filter-feeding system, but Atopodentatus is older than them by about 8 million years