Named By: Arthur Cruickshank and Ewan Fordyce - 2002.
Classification: Chordata, Reptilia, Sauropterygia, Plesiosaura, Plesiosauroidea, Cryptoclidia, Leptocleidia, Leptocleididae.
Species: K. katiki (type).
Diet: Squid, possibly fish.
Size: Between 6.5 and 7 meters long.
Known locations: New Zealand, South Island - Katiki Formation.
Time period: Maastrichtian of the Cretaceous.
Fossil representation: Almost complete individual.
plesiosaurs (those typified by Cryptoclidus) seem to have become
very rare towards the end of the Cretaceous with Kaiwhekea
being one of
the few known members of this family present this late in the
Mesozoic. Like with so many of the late surviving plesiosaurs,
Kaiwhekea seems to have survived this long by
specialised in its feeding. This is revealed by the shape of the
teeth which are very small when compared to other plesiosaurs, as
well as being very numerous, an adaptation that is thought to have
helped Kaiwhekea catch small fast moving prey like
squid, hence the
meaning of its name, ‘squid eater’.
In the past Kaiwhekea was thought to be similar to Aristonectes, a filter feeding plesiosaur known from deposits in South America and Antarctica. Since 2010 however, Kaiwhekea has been treated as a member of the Leptocleididae. Other plesiosaurs from the late Cretaceous of New Zealand are the elasmosaurids Mauisaurus and Tuarangisaurus. Predators of Kaiwhekea were probably late Cretaceous mosasaurs such as Taniwhasaurus, although large sharks like Cretoxyrhina may have also posed a threat.