Fun Kaiwhekea Facts For Kids

Moumita Dutta
Feb 20, 2024 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Dec 07, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Kidadl Team
Kaiwhekea facts are all about a marine reptile of the Late Cretaceous period.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.0 Min

Kaiwhekea (Kaiwhekea katiki) was a plesiosaur of the Late Cretaceous period. The fossil of this species is excavated from New Zealand and it is a nearly complete specimen. It was a marine reptile and was about 20-23 ft (6.1-7 m). Just like other plesiosaurs, Kaiwhekea possessed a long neck with a broad body. It is the only known specimen of New Zealand, whose remains were clearly associated. The entire specimen was recovered from inside a large concretion that took over a month for its complete recovery. Studying the skull bones, the paleontologists described them as an advanced group of plesiosaurs that existed about 70 million years ago.

They also thought that the Kaiwhekea was closely associated with the Cryptoclididae family, which included the long-necked plesiosaur of the Middle Jurassic period to the Late Cretaceous period. In 2010, they were grouped under the Leptocleididae family. Years later in 2016, an analysis by Rodrigo A. Otero put these species under the Elasmosauridae clade. The Kaiwhekea possessed specialized dentition that helped them to easily catch their prey. Compared to other plesiosaur species, these animals had numerous small teeth, an adaptation that led to their long survival in the Cretaceous era. Read on to know more fun facts on this plesiosaur.

If you liked reading this article, then do check out the Kimmerosaurus and the Cryptoclidus, here on Kidadl.

Kaiwhekea Interesting Facts

Was the Kaiwhekea a dinosaur?

The Kaiwhekea was not a dinosaur. It was a marine reptile of the Mesozoic era.

How do you pronounce 'Kaiwhekea'?

Kaiwhekea is pronounced as Kie-whek-e-ah.

What type of marine reptile was a Kaiwhekea?

It was a plesiosaur and was later grouped under the Elasmosauridae family.

In which geological period did the Kaiwhekea live?

These marine reptiles lived during the Late Cretaceous period. Paleontologists believe that they were closely related to the long-necked plesiosaurs of the Cryptoclididae family, which existed between the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods. Several species of marine reptiles and dinosaurs, for example, the mosasaurs and the ichthyosaurs also lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

When did the Kaiwhekea become extinct?

The Kaiwhekea became extinct about 70 million years ago. Their extinction was mainly due to the prevalence of several natural calamities, like climate change and asteroid impact. Certain predatory marine animals, for example, the mosasaur Taniwasaurus and the massive shark Cretoxyrhina, also caused their extinction.

Where did the Kaiwhekea live?

The single known specimen of Kaiwhekea, was found in the Katiki Formation along the coast of Otago in New Zealand. At present, this nearly complete fossil is on display at the Otago Museum of New Zealand.

What was a Kaiwhekea's habitat?

The Kaiwhekea wildlife study from the single known fossil specimen in New Zealand, reveals that they inhabited the cold and dark marine habitat.

Who did the Kaiwhekea live with?

It is not clearly known whether the Kaiwhekea species led a community life or not. However, most plesiosaurs of the Late Cretaceous period may have lived a social life in order to protect themselves from other marine predators.

How long did the Kaiwhekea live?

The fossil of Kaiwhekea katiki, which is now preserved in the Otago Museum of New Zealand, is not enough to know the lifespan of these plesiosaurs. Kaiwhekea belonged to the Elasmosauridae clade, the animals of which possibly had a lifespan of about 18-20 years, according to the research conducted by several paleontologists.

How did they reproduce?

These marine reptiles of New Zealand reproduced by laying eggs. Their reproduction was similar to that of the modern-day marine reptiles. Just like other plesiosaurs, Kaiwhekea species provided parental care for their young ones after they hatched out. They probably fed the little ones small squid or fish.

Kaiwhekea Fun Facts

What did the Kaiwhekea look like?

Paleontologists described this plesiosaur from the nearly complete specimen as long-necked animals of the late Cretaceous period. The single known specimen of this plesiosaur, which is excavated from New Zealand, suggests that they were a highly advanced marine reptile, who preyed mostly on squid. The Kaiwhekea size is about 20-23 ft (6.1-7 m) with a large body. Their head was small as was seen in most other plesiosaurs of that era. Their teeth showed special features, that eventually led to their long survival in the Late Cretaceous period. They had numerous small and uniformly shaped teeth, which made them able to grasp their fast-moving prey. The skull of Kaiwhekea highlights a large interorbital region along with powerful jaw muscles. The large sized-interorbital region highlights the presence of enormous eyes in this species, which they probably required at great depths of the ocean. This particular feature corresponds to their savage predatory skills. The neck of these plesiosaurs was long but probably not flexible. The proportions of their limbs were consistent, which suggests that they were fast swimmers.

Kaiwhekea had a long neck and numerous teeth.

How many bones did the Kaiwhekea have?

The exact number of bones found in this plesiosaur is not known. However, the fossils retrieved from the Katiki Formation of New Zealand comprised the skull, neck, vertebral, and limb bones, all of which were closely articulated. Thus, they were the only known species of New Zealand with a nearly complete fossil specimen, which was recovered from within a large concretion of oxygen-deprived sediment. Years of percolating water decomposed the bones, as a result of which the concretion was cracked and easily broken.

How did they communicate?

The Kaiwhekea plesiosaur may have communicated using their visual and vocal skills. Their large eyes helped them to capture squid and other fish easily from the depths of the seas and oceans. They could detect signals from the water surface easily and were quite aware of their marine surroundings with the help of their special sense organs.

How big was the Kaiwhekea?

Paleontologists described Kaiwhekea, whose fossil was retrieved from the Katiki Formation of New Zealand, as large marine reptiles that were squid-eaters. They were about 20-23 ft (6.1-7 m) in length and were way bigger than the extinct marine turtle, Archelon, which was about 15 ft (4.6 m).

How fast could a Kaiwhekea move?

The consistently proportionate hand flippers of this plesiosaur of New Zealand highlights the fact that they were fast swimmers. They probably swam at great depths to capture squid and other fish with the help of their enormous eyes. Being reptiles, they had to dwell near the water surface in order to breathe air. They used their front flippers that created a flapping motion in the water with an average speed equal to that of the modern-day reptiles.

How much did the Kaiwhekea weigh?

The fossil specimen of this plesiosaur, Kaiwhekea katiki of New Zealand, suggests that they weighed about 2000 lb (907.2 kg). Although their head was small, the neck was highly extended with a broad body.

What were the male and female names of the species?

No specific names are given to the male and female Kaiwhekea species.

What would you call a baby Kaiwhekea?

The Kaiwhekea laid eggs, just like other reptiles. Therefore, the baby of these plesiosaurs could be called a hatchling or a nestling.

What did they eat?

These plesiosaurs of the Katiki Formation of New Zealand were carnivorous in nature. Their staple diet included squid and a vast variety of fish, that were available in the marine habitat. The fossil specimen displays their slim and narrow teeth which were abundant in number. Their jaw muscles and sharp teeth were powerful enough to pierce through the soft body of their prey. Furthermore, these marine reptiles possessed enormous eyes that helped them to detect their prey at great depths easily.

How aggressive were they?

We can consider this community of plesiosaurs as quite aggressive owing to their specialized dentition and powerful jaw, which helped them to maintain their carnivorous diet. However, the plesiosaurs were known to have led a community life, watching each other's back and escaping from marine predators.

Did you know...

The name Kaiwhekea means squid eater. This name was coined by the renowned palaeontologists Arthur Cruickshank and Ewan Fordyce in the year 2002. These marine reptiles were elaborately described by Arthur Cruickshank and Ewan Fordyce in their publication. They further suggested that the Kaiwhekea species lived closer to the polar circles, and probably had survived through prolonged summers and winters. This also highlights their extreme resistance against the harsh climatic conditions.

Who discovered Kaiwhekea?

The English anatomist and paleontologist, Sir Richard Owen, was the first person who identified the fossil specimen of Kaiwhekea in New Zealand.

How sharp were Kaiwhekea’ teeth?

The teeth of this marine reptile were extremely sharp and slim, a feature unique to this particular plesiosaur community. This specialized dentition and powerful jaw muscles helped them to survive for so long in the late Cretaceous period.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly prehistoric animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these Simolestes interesting facts, or Plesiopleurodon facts for kids.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable swimming dinosaur coloring pages.

Main image by Nobu Tamura

Second image by Merytat3n

Fun Kaiwhekea Facts For Kids

How Much Did They Weigh?

2000 lb (907.2 kg)

Skin Type

Scales

How Long Were They?

20-23 ft (6.1-7 m)

How Tall Were They?

N/A

Kingdom

Animalia

Class

Reptilia

Genus

Kaiwhekea

Family

Elasmosauridae

Scientific Name

Kaiwhekea katiki

What Were Their Main Threats?

Natural disasters
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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

Moumita Dutta picture

Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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