Ichthyosaurs coexisted with dinosaurs. However, these aquatic reptiles were very different creatures. They evolved from an evolution of land reptiles that took place during the Triassic, over 246 million years ago. Over the years, ichthyosaurs improved and acquired the appearance of fish. 95 million years ago, several species roamed the seas.
In comparison, many ichthyosaurs were similar in size to modern sharks. They ate fish, squid and other small prey. Some may have been terrifying predators capable of devouring other large marine reptiles. Before that, the largest recorded ichthyosaurs lived in the Triassic period, between 250 and 201 million years ago.
However, the Rutland fossil is geologically younger. It has been dated to about 180 million years ago and there is no doubt that this animal was gigantic. “To find a specimen of this size and in such complete form is remarkable,” says Rebecca Bennion, a paleontologist at the University of Liege who was involved in the excavation. The skull itself is over 2 meters long. The length of the entire body is over 30 feet, which is comparable to the size of modern minke whales. It took just over two weeks to fully excavate the near-complete fossil, despite teams changing from morning to night.
Ultimately, Mr Lomax says he and his team “discovered the most complete fossil of a large prehistoric reptile ever found in Britain.”
Although the find has not yet been officially described, Jorge Vélez-Juarbe, a paleontologist at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History who was not involved in the excavation, called it “an incredible find” that opened a new chapter in the history of evolution. these aquatic reptiles. “Like whales, ichthyosaurs reached gigantic sizes, and this, [pour plus d’un spécimen] in different lineages throughout their history. »
EVOLUTION OF THE SEA MONSTER
Rutland’s ichthyosaur has yet to be freed from the breeds in which it was kept. However, “we took every possible measurement and took thousands of photographs,” says Lomax. Thanks to them, it was possible to create the basis of a three-dimensional model of the skeleton.
Rutland’s skeleton is now thought to be that of an ichthyosaur. Temnodontosaurus Trigonodon, a species mostly recorded from isolated bones found in Jurassic rocks in Germany. During the early Jurassic period, about 180 million years ago, these reptiles were the largest marine predators on the planet, according to Lomax.
Most often, these animals are described as dolphin-like squid thieves. The role of ichthyosaurs as huge marine predators is only just beginning to emerge. Other ichthyosaur fossils indicate that larger species may have fed on other marine reptiles such as long-necked plesiosaurs or even other ichthyosaurs.
It is even possible that another member of this order tried to make Rutland’s skeleton his food. Excavators found several isolated teeth from Temnodontosaurusscattered around the skeleton, often a sign of the presence of a scavenger.
“A large tooth was found next to the severed part of the tail,” Lomax said. A clue that suggests another ichthyosaur must have passed by to separate the carcass from the bones before it was buried.