In southwestern China, a team of paleontologists recently discovered the well-preserved fossil remains of an entirely new species of giant reptile... which may also be one of the creepiest prehistoric specimens ever unearthed.
Photo: L.Cheng et al./Naturwissenschaften
According to National Geographic, the skeleton of the nine-foot-long aquatic creature – which the team dubbed Atopodentatus unicushas – dates back to the mid-Triassic period (between 200 and 300 million years ago). Its name translates as “disturbing teeth,” and for damn good reason: this thing's freakish face makes it look more like a cosmic behemoth from the works of H.P. Lovecraft than an earthbound reptile.
Image © Nobu Tamura via Spinops
That strange cleft you see in the creature's snout is actually a kind of vertical second mouth, which the team theorizes might have been used to filter small organisms from the ocean floor; that material would then get scooped into the horizontal “main” mouth below it. The hideous maw probably wasn't capable of swallowing anything much larger than tiny plankton-like organisms, so keep that in mind in case you see this thing in your next nightmare.