The American Museum of Natural History has recently announced the discovery of a new species of mosasaur, which has been named after Jörmungandr, a pivotal creature from Norse mythology

According to the recently published study, an important fossil discovered in the small city of Walhalla in North Dakota in 2015 has now been officially identified as a previously undiscovered type of ancient reptile.

Mosasaurs are a well-known group of extinct, large marine reptiles from the Late Cretaceous Period. 

The fossil, which consisted of a nearly complete skull, jaws, and cervical spine, was soon identified as a mosasaur yet possessed a previously unknown combination of features. 

According to the study published by Amelia R. Zietlow, Clint A. Boyd, and Nathan E. Van Vranken, the creature is thought to have been around seven meters long, with a shark-like tail and a prominent ridge on the skull. 

Its official name: Jormungandr walhallaensis. 

Jormungandr walhallaensis, a formidable marine reptile estimated at around seven meters long, is believed to have been a dominant predator in its ancient marine habitat. Illustration: SlvrHwk / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The World Serpent 

The second part of the creature's name, "walhallaensis," refers, of course, to the city where the fossil was found. 

And as the authors specify in their published article, "We chose Jormungandr as the generic name due to the origin of Walhalla from Norse Valhǫll (Valhalla); Valhǫll is the great hall of Óðinn occupied by warriors slain in combat who rise again to participate in the battles catalyzed by Ragnarök."

Jörmungandr, also known as the World Serpent or the Midgard Serpent, was cast by Odin into the ocean that surrounds Midgard, the realm of mortals. 

The serpent grows ever larger, eventually encircling the world and biting its own tail. At the end of days, Jormungandr releases its tail, rises from the seas, and joins its siblings, Fenrir and Hel, in the battle against the gods during the climax of Ragnarök

The Norse influence 

The new mosasaur is not the first instance of Norse mythology inspiring names. 

Numerous towns and cities, such as Odense in Denmark, Woden Valley in Australia, and Odin, Illinois, are named after Odin. This Norse deity also influences several English words, including "odd," "outside," and "ode." 

Similarly, Thor is the source of words like "thunder" and "tornado," while Freya's name is linked to the etymology of "fragrant" and "fruitful."

Moreover, many days of the week – Thursday (Thor's Day), Friday (Frigg's Day), and Wednesday (Odin's or Woden's Day) – are named after Norse gods. 

Additionally, the name of the "husky" dog breed is derived from the Old Norse term húskarl, meaning "household guard" or "servant." 

According to Norse legends, Jörmungandr is a monstrous serpent born from the trickster god Loki, fated to grow so vast that it encircles the Earth, bringing about the end of the gods during the apocalyptic Ragnarök. Illustration: The Viking Herald

An excellent choice 

There is no question that the latest addition to the canon, the Jormungandr walhallaensis, has the perfect moniker: one that conjures up the terrifying ferocity and power of both the mythical creature and its earthly counterpart while also hinting at the eternal fascination and curiosity that they invoke in us.

As the study's co-author, Nathan Van Vranken, explained to Phys.org, "The tale of Jörmungandr paints a wonderful picture and helps contribute to our understanding of the northernmost regions of the interior seaway, especially with the mosasaurs, and discoveries such as these can pique scientific curiosity."

For further details on the discovery, the article in the American Museum of Natural History's digital library offers comprehensive information. 

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