Ben Creisler's Plesiosaur Pronunciation Guide

Copyright Ben Creisler 2000-2012

The proper English translations of generic names and related taxon, and their preferred pronunciations.

(Moved to Oceans of Kansas, July 7, 2012)


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Each entry begins with the name of the genus in italics--bold face indicates a valid name for a generally recognized taxon; light face indicates that the name is preoccupied, or is considered a nomen dubium or a junior synonym of another name. The name is followed by the author or authors of the name, the year of official publication, and an interpreted meaning of the name in quotes. On a separate line are the phonetic pronunciation (see comments below under "Pronunciation"), the etymology (see comments below under "Etymology"), an asterisk when the etymology was provided by the author of the name, and the Latin gender of the name: (m) = masculine, (f) = feminine, (n) = neuter. The text gives a fuller explanation of the name and a short description of the animal. When available, the number of vertebrae, the length of the entire body, the skull and the mandible are listed. The type species and any additional recognized species are briefly listed and discussed. Finally, the entry provides a classification at the level of superfamily and family, the time period during which the animal lived and the continent on which its fossils have been found (NA. "North America," SA. "South America," Eur. "Europe," Ant. "Antarctica," Afr. "Africa," Aus. "Australia"). Senior synonyms or replacement names appear in brackets with an equal sign. The term [nomen dubium] is used to indicate a name that is based on material generally considered inadequate to permit a useful scientific diagnosis of the proposed taxon.

Family and Superfamily Names:

Bold face indicates families that most researchers accept; light face indicates proposed families that most researchers currently do not recognize. A brief diagnosis of the group follows, with a list of recognized members, and "undescribed members" for new discoveries that have not been described yet in the official scientific literature.


For genera known from fairly complete skeletons, this guide indicates the number of cervical (neck), pectoral, dorsal (back), sacral (hip) and caudal (tail) vertebrae. Following a practice started by H. G. Seeley, researchers commonly use the term "pectoral" vertebrae for a distinctive group of vertebrae that form the transition between the last vertebra at the base of the neck and the first dorsal vertebra of the back in plesiosaurs. The pectorals traditionally include from two to five vertebrae on which the attachment for the ribs rises progressively from the side of the centrum on the bones of the neck to the projecting process at the based of the neural spines of the dorsal vertebrae. Some researcher have questioned the usefulness of designating the pectorals as a special type of vertebrae since similar transitional vertebrae are not treated as a separate group of bones in other types of reptiles.

The exact number of vertebrae indicated for each genus is not meant as a strict diagnostic feature since the number of cervical and dorsal vertebrae may vary between individuals within a population, or may be higher or lower in different species belonging to the same genus. However, the count can provide a basic clue to the animal's proportions. Since the small vertebrae toward the tip of the tail are sometimes missing or scattered even in otherwise complete specimens, the number of caudal vertebrae given is often an estimate.


The length of the entire body is indicated where possible, but is meant only as a rough guide to average adult size--plesiosaurs appear to have grown throughout life as modern reptiles do, and exceptionally large individuals of any given species probably existed. In life, cartilage separated the vertebrae, adding about ten percent to the length determined from bones alone--this added length has been factored into the estimated lengths given here. Skull length is measured from the tip of the snout to the occiput where the neck attaches; mandible (lower jaw) length is measured from the tip of the dentary to the furtherest end of the angular.

Pronunciation Guide:

English-speaking scientists pronounce scientific names in different ways, and there is no universally recognized "correct" pronunciation. This guide attempts to provide a "preferred" pronunciation that follows a consistent set of rules. As much as possible, this guide follows the so-called Traditional English Method for pronouncing Latin words in English. Words of non- Latin or non-Greek origin (Chinese, Spanish, etc.) are given an English approximation of the foreign sounds that form part of a name (for example, Chinese shi should be pronounced "shuhr" rather than "shee," etc., to better approximate the actual Chinese pronunciation.)

For purposes of this guide, the following consonants and consonant combinations have the regular sound assigned in English spelling:

b, ch, d, f, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, sh, t, th, v, w, y, z.

Special rules:

g by itself always stands for the hard sound in "get";
ng is like in "sing";
s is always unvoiced as in "sit" or "miss";
zh stands for the sound z has before "u" in "azure" (that is, a voiced sh sound);
y is a semi-consonant as in "yell," not a vowel as in "why."

The letters used to indicate short and long vowels, and diphthongs, have the sounds indicated in the following word examples:

a (cat), ah (father), ay (bay), aw (law); e (bet), ee (beet); i (it), ie (lie); o (got), oh (toe), oy (boy); u (put), uh (cut), oo (boot), ow (cow).

Names created in the 19th century are generally given the traditional Latin accent (based on the length of the next-to- last syllable); names created more recently are usually stressed on word-roots regardless of where Latin rules would assign the accent. Upper case letters indicate a stressed syllable, bold face indicates the main stress. When pronunciations with different stresses are possible, both may be indicated. Example: Macroplata can be pronounced ma-KROP-la-tuh (Latin accent) or MAK-ro-PLAY-tuh (word-root accent).

Species Names:

Latin species names ending in the genitive form "i" or "ae" that are derived from modern personal names generally keep the stress accent of the original name.


Most names are derived from Greek (Gr.) or Latin (Lat.) roots. Bold face indicates long vowels or diphthongs in Greek or Latin. The general meaning of word roots is given in quotes. Other languages used to form names include Chinese (Chin.), Spanish (Span.), English (Eng.), and Russian (Russ.).

Collection and Museum Abbreviations:

Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia
British Museum of Natural History (London)
Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago)
California Institute of Technology
Carnegie Museum (Pittsburgh)
Denver Museum of Natural History
Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University, Hays, KS
Kansas University, Vertebrate Paleontology, Natural History Museum
Kansas University Museum of Natural History
Museum of Comparative Zoology (Harvard University)
National Museum of Ireland
New Zealand Geological Survey
Queensland Museum
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
Southern Methodist University, Shuler Museum of Paleontology
Texas Tech University (Lubbock)
University of California Museum of Paleontology (Berkeley)
United States National Museum (Washington, D.C.)
Yale Peabody Museum (New Haven)
Yorkshire Museum


A number of professional researchers have been very helpful in answering my questions and supplying important information on the topic of plesiosaurs. I would especially like to thank Ken Carpenter for his constant help and for sharing details of his own research. I would also like to thank Glenn Storrs for supplying key information and copies of his publications. I am also very grateful to Colin McHenry and Ralph Molnar for answering my many questions. Tracy Ford has been invaluable in supplying photocopies of original articles. Any errors, misunderstandings, outdated information or oversights in this guide are my own, however. Corrections and suggestions for improvements would be appreciated.


An excellent bibliography for references about plesiosaurs and other Mesozoic marine reptiles is available on a number of web sites such as Oceans of Kansas. However, a many important recent papers not yet listed are cited in this guide:

  1. Bardet, N. 1995. Evolution et extinction des reptiles marins au cours du Mesozoique. Palaeovertebrata 24(3-4) 283 pp.
  2. ----- 1998. A preliminary cladistic analysis of the Plesiosauria. (Abstract). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 18(3): Supp. to No. 3:26A.
  3. Gasparini, Z. 1997. A new pliosaur from the Bajocian of the Neuquen Basin, Argentina. Palaeontology. 40(1):135-147.

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