To Be Clear, All Prehistoric Sea Creatures Were Scary

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It sounds like the unexpected twist in a science fiction movie or a story line that did not unfold in the TV series “Lost,” but new research reveals some of the largest (and probably most fearsome *) sea creatures that lived in what is now the Sahara desert.

The document, published in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, details an ancient body of water called Trans-Sarahan Seaway, which covered parts of West Africa 100 million to 50 million years ago.

For two decades, scientists examined fossils and sediments in what is now the Republic of Mali to get an accurate picture of what this prehistoric environment looked like. They concluded that the body of water was warm, shallow and was home to a 1.5-meter-long catfish and 12-meter-long sea serpents.

“The ancient Malian ecosystem had numerous predators such as Crocodyliformes, Serpentes and Amiidae, some of which were among the largest species of their clades,” the document said. (A clade is a group of organisms that are believed to have evolved from the same ancestor).

In simple language, these are crocodile-shaped animals, snakes and ugly fish, all designed to kill.

Why were they so big?

How did they get so big? The trans-Sahara seaway stretched from north to south from what is now Algeria to what is now Nigeria. That means that it was isolated from large bodies of water for long periods of its existence.

According to the document, this type of isolation can have limited predators and ensure that resources are always available, which is a perfect recipe for a species to grow out of control.

To Be Clear, All Prehistoric Sea Creatures Were Scary

“The trans-Saharan seaway exhibited intermittent isolation of the main seas,” the document said. “This environmental variable may have created aquatic centers of endemism, stimulating selection for gigantism as observed previously for species on terrestrial islands.”

Endemism is when a species is limited to a specific area.

The Sahara has obviously come a long way from the nightmare aquarium that it once was. In 2014, the climate simulations concluded that the arid Sahara we know today was formed about seven million years ago when a change in the tectonic plates closed the region of the surrounding seas.