Researchers have found a tooth belonging to one of the largest predators to ever exist on Earth: a real Triassic sea monster known as an ichthyosaur.
According to a new study published in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. According to the authors of the study, the previous record holder for the largest tooth was an ichthyosaur almost 15 meters long.
Since scientists only have half of the tooth on which to base research, it is impossible to accurately determine the characteristics of its owner in this case. “It’s hard to tell whether the tooth belongs to a large giant-toothed ichthyosaur or a giant-toothed giant ichthyosaur,” said lead author P. Martin Sander of the University of Bonn in Germany.
The ichthyosaurs, whose name translates as “fish-lizard”, arose in the middle Triassic period (about 252-201 million years ago), shortly after the Upper Permian extinction event occurred, which destroyed about 95% of life in the Earth’s oceans.
Approximately 5 million years after their appearance, ichthyosaurs grew to enormous sizes and dominated all the world’s oceans, according to the authors of the study.
The largest known ichthyosaur, Shastasaurus sikanniensis, is a cetacean creature that can reach 21 meters or more in length. By comparison, according to the American Museum of Natural History, today’s blue whales typically measure 24 to 30 meters in length, while the predatory king T. Rex averaged 12 meters.
The discovery of an ichthyosaur tooth shrouded in mystery
According to this study, many large ichthyosaurs, including the giant Shastasaurus, appear to have become top predators that never developed teeth. Only one species of giant ichthyosaur, a 50-meter Himalayan found in Tibet, is known to have a mouth full of teeth.
So when scientists discovered a single large ichthyosaur fossil tooth in the Kössen Formation in the Swiss Alps — an 8,000-foot rock that once existed on the seafloor — the team was faced with a mystery.
The researchers analyzed in detail a fossil tooth, as well as large ichthyosaur ribs and vertebrae, found in the same alpine formation between 1976 and 1990. The team compared bone samples to other giant ichthyosaur fossils with more complete skeletons to assess size and appearance. from new copies.
Measuring about 6 cm wide at the root and 10 cm high from the root to the broken end of the crown, the fossil tooth is twice the size of any known Himalayan tooth, the researchers say.
The unique pattern of dentin—the hard tissue that makes up the teeth of most reptiles and mammals—suggests that the tooth belonged to an ichthyosaur, but the fossil’s extraordinary size does not match any known species.
If the creature’s body was significantly larger than that of a Himalayan, as the tooth seems to suggest, then researchers may have found the largest ichthyosaur ever discovered.
Similarly, the ribs and vertebrae found in the Kössen Formation are among the largest ichthyosaur fossils of this species ever discovered in Europe. The tooth, ribs and vertebrae appear to be from three different ichthyosaur specimens – all gigantic.
“These giant Triassic ichthyosaurs were clearly among the largest animals to have ever inhabited our planet,” the researchers said in a statement.
So far, researchers have assigned all three specimens to the Shastasauridae family, the same family as Shastasaurus, Xonissaurus, and the Himalayan giants. Further research is needed to infer species if possible.
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