Ichthyosaurs, also known as “fish lizards” or “fish dragons”, or “sea dragons”, were a group of fish-like marine reptiles that lived during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, one of the termites. top threat of prehistoric oceans.
“The ichthyosaurs descended from an unknown group of land-dwelling and air-breathing reptiles such as modern whales or dolphins,” said Dr Martin Sander, a paleontologist from the University of Bonn and the Dinosaur Institute. long of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.
Researchers first noticed fossils belonging to an ancient fish lizard in 1998. It is located in the rock layer in the Augusta Mountains, northwestern Nevada state (USA).
According to Lars Schmitz, an associate professor at the Scripps School in Claremont, California, there are only a few ribs protruding from the rock, but the animal is clearly enormous.
It was not until 2015, with the help of helicopters, that researchers were able to fully excavate the individual. The surviving fossils include a well-preserved skull along with a portion of the spine, shoulders and lower legs. The skull alone was up to 2 meters long, it is estimated that the animal was up to 17 meters in size.
Portrait of a monster of the Triassic period. Photo: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
The team named the new species Cymbospondylus youngorum (C. youngorum). When alive, C. youngorum weighed 41 tons, lived in the Panthalassa super ocean off western North America. Based on the size and shape of its teeth, C. youngorum is more likely to eat smaller fish lizards, fish, and squid.
Dating back to 244 million years, it is described as the earliest known ichthyosaur to have reached “epic size”, which is unusually large like the monsters described in ancient epics or myths.
According to the research team, this species appeared only 8 million years after the first ichthyosaurs appeared on Earth. They attain enormous sizes that may be related to an explosion of smaller animals, such as giant snail-like shells, or eel-like animals, which have no jaws, filling the voids. ecology after the Permian mass extinction.
The appearance of suitable “monsters” at the top of the food chain like C. youngorum will help rebalance the ecosystem against the rapid proliferation of small groups of organisms