Giant marine reptile fossils found in Swiss Alps | Science

Fossils were found between 1976 and 1990 in the Swiss Alps
Disclosure / Heinz Furrer

Fossils were found between 1976 and 1990 in the Swiss Alps

A set of three fossils of an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile, found in the Swiss Alps between 1976 and 1990 has been the subject of a new study that has revealed that at least one of them is the largest such animal ever found in the world.

The results of studies by paleontologists from the universities of Bonn, Germany, and Zurich, Switzerland, were published this Thursday (28) in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleotontogy. According to the analysis carried out under the command of Dr. Heinz Furrer, the remains are about 205 million years old and were located at an altitude of about 2,800 meters.

Among them is the largest ichthyosaur tooth (which can be translated as a fish lizard) ever located, with about two inches of root alone. The size is twice as large as the previous discovery, and in this case, the ichthyosaur was 15 meters long.

In addition, a set of 10 vertebrae was found, the largest to date in all of Europe, and other bones of the marine giant.

The fact that the discovery was made at a high altitude in modern times is not surprising, as experts point out that this region of Switzerland was at the bottom of the then Tethys Sea, the large strip of water that separated the continents of Laurasia and Gondwana when the supercontinent Pangea began its breakup.

The paleontologist and director of the Natural History Museum in Milan, Cristiano Dal Sasso, recalls that it was in this same area, but on the Italian side, that, in 1993, the fossil of a Besanosaurus was found, an animal of the ichthyosaur genus measuring 5.5 meters. of lenght.

“That specimen, which lived 240 million years ago, is in a way a grandfather of the three fossils examined in the new study,” said the expert, noting that, in the next 30 million years or so, this species reached the peak of its gigantism. at the end of the Triassic Period, with animals longer than 20 meters.

“Until now, the most complete specimens have been found in the Americas, but this finding in the Alps suggests the possibility that they had a more global distribution. Having large dimensions is advantageous because it allows you to move up the food chain and better maintain your body temperature.” , points out Dal Sasso.

However, the mystery about how they fed remains, as their teeth appear to be small, just like the blue whale. The study of the tooth located by paleontologists now, which has a slight backward curvature, may indicate that the ichthyosaur fed on squid.

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