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A New Marine Reptile (Sauropterygia) from New Zealand: Further Evidence for A Late Cretaceous Austral Radiation of Cryptoclidid Plesiosaurs

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Kaiwhekea katiki gen. et sp. nov. represents the first described cryptoclidid plesiosaurian from New Zealand. It is one of the largest cryptoclidids known, at a length of over 6.5 m, and represents the third reported genus of austral Late Cretaceous cryptoclidids. Kaiwhekea katiki is from siltstones of the Katiki Formation, upper Haumurian Stage (Cenomanian–Maastrichtian; c. 69–70 Ma) of coastal Otago, South Island, New Zealand. In the Late Cretaceous, the locality lay close to the polar circle. The holotype and only known specimen is an articulated skeleton with skull, preserved mostly as natural molds, but which lacks the forelimbs and pectoral girdle. The skull is relatively large and possesses several distinct characters, including a substantial, deep, jugal. There are about 43 upper and 42 lower teeth in each jaw quadrant; all are homodont, slim, and slightly recurved, lacking prominent ornament. Kaiwhekea probably took single soft-bodied prey. Based on cranial structure, it clearly belongs with the Cryptoclididae, but is not certainly close to the southern Late Cretaceous cryptoclidids Morturneria (Seymour Island, Antarctica) and Aristonectes (Chile, Argentina).
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Keywords: Cretaceous; New Zealand; Sauropterygia; anatomy; biogeography; plesiosaur; stratigraphy; systematics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Natural Sciences (Geology), New Walk Museum, UK and Department of Geology, University of Leicester, UK [email protected] 2: Department of Geology, Otago University, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand [email protected]

Publication date: May 1, 2002

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