Scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany have discovered a 205-million-year-old ichthyosaur in the Alps in Switzerland. According to the researchers, the animal was larger than a blue whale and lived in the Panthalassic ocean around Pangea during the Late Triassic period.
The ichthyosaur, which has characteristics of both reptiles and fish, was originally identified when fossils were found between the years 1976 and 1990, in rocks with an altitude of more than 2,700 meters. Despite the curious altitude, the site was once home to the bottom of a large lake, as revealed by a new study, published today in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
This species of animal became extinct 90 million years ago, even before the collision of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, according to the British tabloid Daily Star.
Dr Martin Sandler of the University of Bonn said there could be more remains of “giant” sea creatures hiding under the glaciers.
The discovery surpassed two other paleontological finds: an ichthyosaur from Canada called Shonisaurus sikanniensis, which was 21 meters long, and a 25-meter-long Jurassic “sea dragon” that roamed the British coast around the same time.
Sandler said the size of the animal is a selective advantage, and that only three groups of animals weighed 10 to 20 tons, and ichthyosaurs are among them. “There were only three groups of animals that had masses greater than 10-20 metric tons: long-necked dinosaurs, whales, and the giant Triassic ichthyosaurs.
The animal’s tooth root alone is twice as wide as the previous record of another ichthyosaur, which was 15 meters from nose to tail.
Because of the size of the animal, Martin said that more should be known about them. “It is a huge embarrassment to paleontology that we know so little about these giant ichthyosaurs, despite the extraordinary size of their fossils.”
In addition to stature, ichthyosaurs had an important evolutionary leap in reproduction: instead of laying eggs, they began to give birth to live young. Because they looked like a fish, they could reach speeds of up to 35.4 km/h.
Dr. Heinz Furrer, retired curator of the Paleontological Museum at the University of Zurich, celebrated the find. “It is the longest ichthyosaur in the world, with the thickest tooth found to date and the largest trunk vertebra in Europe.”
In January of this year, another ichthyosaur fossil was found in the Midlands, UK. It was about 180 million years old and 10 meters long, with a skull weighing a ton.