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The four-flipper swimming method of plesiosaurs enabled efficient and effective locomotion

The four-flipper swimming method of plesiosaurs enabled efficient and effective locomotion
The four-flipper swimming method of plesiosaurs enabled efficient and effective locomotion
The extinct ocean-going plesiosaurs were unique within vertebrates because they used two flipper pairs identical in morphology for propulsion. Although fossils of these Mesozoic marine reptiles have been known for more than two centuries, the function and dynamics of their tandem-flipper propulsion system has always been unclear and controversial. We address this question quantitatively for the first time in this study, reporting a series of precisely-controlled water tank experiments that use reconstructed plesiosaur flippers scaled from well-preserved fossils. Our aim was to determine which limb movements would have resulted in the most efficient and effective propulsion. We show that: Plesiosaur hind flippers generated up to 60% more thrust and 40% higher efficiency when operating in harmony with their forward counterparts, as compared to operating alone, and; The spacing and relative motion between the flippers was critical in governing these increases. The results of our analyses show that this phenomenon was likely present across the whole range of plesiosaur flipper motion and resolves the centuries-old debate about the propulsion style of these marine reptiles, as well as indicating why they retained two pairs of flippers for more than 100 million years.
hydrodynamics, plesiosaurs, biomechanics, fluid mechanics
Muscutt, Luke
c10a4f10-38d0-4c9e-bfa5-9605856838ad
Dyke, Gareth
866864a2-ed79-4adc-96bb-aa388a55ca24
Weymouth, Gabriel
b0c85fda-dfed-44da-8cc4-9e0cc88e2ca0
Naish, Darren
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Palmer, Colin
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Ganapathisubramani, Bharathram
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Muscutt, Luke
c10a4f10-38d0-4c9e-bfa5-9605856838ad
Dyke, Gareth
866864a2-ed79-4adc-96bb-aa388a55ca24
Weymouth, Gabriel
b0c85fda-dfed-44da-8cc4-9e0cc88e2ca0
Naish, Darren
aa6bd7f8-86e4-4965-bd94-20b1573b194d
Palmer, Colin
050ad5a2-9afa-45a2-b630-b1548680a029
Ganapathisubramani, Bharathram
5e69099f-2f39-4fdd-8a85-3ac906827052

Muscutt, Luke, Dyke, Gareth, Weymouth, Gabriel, Naish, Darren, Palmer, Colin and Ganapathisubramani, Bharathram (2017) The four-flipper swimming method of plesiosaurs enabled efficient and effective locomotion. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284 (1861), [20170951]. (doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.0951).

Record type: Article

Abstract

The extinct ocean-going plesiosaurs were unique within vertebrates because they used two flipper pairs identical in morphology for propulsion. Although fossils of these Mesozoic marine reptiles have been known for more than two centuries, the function and dynamics of their tandem-flipper propulsion system has always been unclear and controversial. We address this question quantitatively for the first time in this study, reporting a series of precisely-controlled water tank experiments that use reconstructed plesiosaur flippers scaled from well-preserved fossils. Our aim was to determine which limb movements would have resulted in the most efficient and effective propulsion. We show that: Plesiosaur hind flippers generated up to 60% more thrust and 40% higher efficiency when operating in harmony with their forward counterparts, as compared to operating alone, and; The spacing and relative motion between the flippers was critical in governing these increases. The results of our analyses show that this phenomenon was likely present across the whole range of plesiosaur flipper motion and resolves the centuries-old debate about the propulsion style of these marine reptiles, as well as indicating why they retained two pairs of flippers for more than 100 million years.

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Accepted/In Press date: 24 July 2017
e-pub ahead of print date: 30 August 2017
Keywords: hydrodynamics, plesiosaurs, biomechanics, fluid mechanics

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Local EPrints ID: 416095
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/416095
PURE UUID: 3cda6633-37e9-447c-8b22-4292ef58475f
ORCID for Gabriel Weymouth: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0001-5080-5016
ORCID for Bharathram Ganapathisubramani: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0001-9817-0486

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Date deposited: 01 Dec 2017 17:31
Last modified: 07 Oct 2020 02:03

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Author: Luke Muscutt
Author: Gareth Dyke
Author: Darren Naish
Author: Colin Palmer

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