The Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University has cracked open yet another secret from the ancient past.

It has discovered that some marine reptiles from millions of years ago had similar inner ears to modern-day aquatic creatures such as whales‚ sea turtles and crocodiles.

The inner ear may be a relatively tiny part of the body of any animal‚ but it is a powerful “map” of the lives lived by creatures which have long since disappeared from our world.

Why? Because the inner ear contains a tiny sense organ responsible for balance and orientation. It gives clues to the locomotion of an animal – especially those in a three-dimensional environment like the sea.

The university said in a statement that an international team of researchers led by Dr James Neenan at Wits were surprised “that a completely extinct group of marine reptiles called sauropterygians (swimming reptiles from the age of dinosaurs) evolved similar inner ear proportions to those of some modern day aquatic reptiles and mammals‚” even though their lifestyle was so different.

Said Neenan: “Sauropterygians are completely extinct and have no living descendants‚ so I was amazed to see that nearshore species with limbs that resemble those of terrestrial animals had ears similar to crocodylians and that the fully-aquatic‚ flippered plesiosaurs had ears similar to sea turtles.”

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