Researchers from the University of Southampton have created a robotic mechanism to probe the Swimming Style of plesiosaur—a prehistoric marine creature. According to the team, this robot to can mimic the movements of the plesiosaur to help the researcher understand the propulsion method used by the prehistoric creature to move in the sea.

Plesiosaurs lived in the same era as dinosaurs

Scientists believe that plesiosaurs lived in the same era as dinosaurs. They were almost evenly distributed in world’s oceans during Mesozoic Era but eventually disappeared from Earth about 65 million years ago.

Two amazing features of these creatures were their long necks and two almost-similar pairs of flippers that they used to move in the water. The second feature is usually not seen in other vertebrates; for example, modern-day sea lions and turtles are characterized by differently-shaped front and back flippers. They mainly use their front flippers for generating thrust and the rear flippers for steering purpose.

Researchers attached 3-D printed flippers to a robotic mechanism

In the past six decades, different biologists have proposed different theories regarding the propulsion dynamics of plesiosaurs. While some argued that plesiosaur used all of their flippers to generate thrust, others had a different viewpoint.

In the current study, the University of Southampton team, led by Luke Muscutt, a Ph.D. student, collaborated with a team of researchers from the University of Bristol. The joint team carried out a series of experiments in a water tank using the bulky, wing-like, 3D-printed flippers to imitate different movements of plesiosaurs.

The team reveals that these flippers were attached to a robotic system that was able to swim in the tank in different movement-pattern combinations. The flippers were created only after analyzing earlier discovered plesiosaur remains as well as X-ray images of modern-day animals that use flippers to move in water. This analysis aimed to figure out the shape of flippers that robotic system would need to move in the water.

Researchers observed that swirling movements created by plesiosaurs’ front flipper helped in increasing the efficiency and thrust produced by the back flipper. The finding indicated that these marine creatures probably used all four flippers to swim in the water.

Colin Palmer, a researcher at the School of Earth Sciences at Bristol University, says the results of this study have finally solved the puzzle how plesiosaurs swam in the water. Palmer thinks these results also demonstrate the efficiency of tandem flipper arrangement.

The detailed findings of the study have been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.