World’s largest ichthyosaur found in the Alps?

Researchers have announced that they have discovered a broken tooth in the Swiss Alps of one of the largest predators that has ever existed on Earth. This is not a dinosaur, but a marine reptile. This giant ichthyosaur patrolled the seas at the end of the Triassic period, about 205 million years ago.

Ichthyosaurs, whose name translates as “lizard fish”, are marine reptiles that appeared in the Middle Triassic period (approximately 252 to 201 million years ago), shortly after the great extinction of the late Permian period.

The largest known ichthyosaur Shastasaurus Sicannius. This whale-like creature measured its time more than twenty meters long. On the other hand, these animals did not have teeth as adults. To date, only one species of giant ichthyosaur is known to have had a full mouth of teeth: Himalayansaurus. An animal found in Tibet measured approximately fifteen meters longhence the interest in this new discovery.

Triassic giant in the Alps

In the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, paleontologists report the discovery of a new ichthyosaur tooth. And although the crown is partially missing, the root of the fossil canine appears. twice as wide than any other ichthyosaur tooth knownHimalayansaurus. The fossil was found in the Kössen Formation in the Swiss Alps, which once lined the seabed.

The unique pattern of dentin (the hard tissue that makes up most of the teeth of reptiles and mammals) proves that the tooth belonged to an ichthyosaur. However, the extraordinary size of the fossil does not match any known species. Thus, its owner may be one of the largest animals that ever lived on earth.

Naturally, this type of conclusion is likely to be debated in the scientific community, since paleontologists will end up with only half a tooth on which to base their work. ” Ultimately it is very difficult for us to tell if it was a medium sized ichthyosaur with giant teeth or a giant ichthyosaur with medium sized teeth.“, says Martin Sander from the University of Bonn in Germany.

An ichthyosaur tooth is 10 cm high and 6 cm at the base. Part of his crown is missing. Its owner may be one of the greatest sea monsters of all time. Credits: Dr. Martin Sander and Dr. Heinz Furrer

At least three giant species?

In the new study, the researchers also analyzed in detail large ribs and vertebrae ichthyosaurs are also found in the region between 1976 and 1990. They then compared samples of these bones with those of other giant ichthyosaurs, gaining more information to assess the size and appearance of these new specimens.

Based on these results, it would seem that these ribs and vertebrae of the Kössen Formation are also among the the largest such ichthyosaur fossils ever found in Europe. The tooth, ribs and vertebrae end up coming from three different ichthyosaur specimens, all gigantic.

However, again, since only a few bones remain from each specimen, it is impossible to reliably classify them. Bone measurements may also be slightly skewed, as many of these fossils appear to have been crushed by the movement of tectonic plates that uplifted the Alps millions of years ago.

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