This fossil started making the news in February and is from the Anisian age of the Middle Triassic period about 247 to 242 million years ago. It was found in Luoping County in Yunnan province, China in a well-known marine fossil area. Yunnan is an extremely mountainous province in southern China bordering Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Vietnam, and Tibet, and Luoping is a center-eastern county in the least mountainous region of the province.
It is the Atopodentatus unicus (approximately meaning “unique disturbingly weird-toothed”) and is classified as a sauropterygian (best-known for its plesiosaurs and nothosaurs). Atopodentatus had semi-aquatic adaptations but retained strong hips and legs. What sets it apart from all other reptiles is its beautiful smile.
Illustration 1 is from the National Geographic by Julius Csotonyi.
Illustration 2 is by Nobu Tamura, 2014.
Illustration 3 is by MALvit, 2014.
In spite of having needle-like teeth, Atopodentatus was incapable of biting hard or holding small prey, and is suspected to have been a filter feeder. The teeth in the center of the upper mandible have been described as “comb-like” or “zipper-like”, and the mouth has been compared to that of a flamingo.
There are several interesting articles with the more technical ones at the bottom: