Science

Historic reptile appeared like a cross between a dolphin and a shark

Artist’s impression of Thalassodraco etchesi

Megan Jacobs/Baylor College

A newly recognized historic reptile that appears like a cross between a dolphin and a shark is uncommon sufficient to be categorized as a part of a brand new animal group. It lived 150 million years in the past and doubtless dived deep within the sea to seize squid and different slippery prey.

The reptile, dubbed Thalassodraco etchesi, had monumental eyes and a big rib cage, suggesting it had nice lung capability and the flexibility to see in darkish ocean depths. It’s an ichthyosaur, a gaggle of extinct marine reptiles, however as it’s a lot smaller than different species and has different distinguishing options, researchers have categorized it in its personal genus.

The species was recognized from an exceptionally well-preserved fossil discovered close to Kimmeridge Bay within the UK. The title is derived from Thalasso for sea in Greek, draco for dragon in Latin and etchesi in honour of the novice collector who found the fossil in 2009, Steve Etches.

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“Folks have been excavating ichthyosaurs on this space for 200 years, however discovering a brand new species – not to mention a brand new genus – could be very uncommon,” says Megan Jacobs at Baylor College in Waco, Texas.

Jacobs and her colleague David Martill on the College of Portsmouth, UK, took high-resolution pictures of the fossil. Their evaluation revealed an unknown, long-mouthed reptile with a shark-like tail and dorsal fin that lived fully underwater and would come up for air like dolphins do, Jacobs says.

Just one facet of the fossil’s jaw is seen, and the higher half is best preserved than the decrease. From this quarter jaw, the pair counted about 50 small, clean tooth, suggesting the animal had 200 such tooth, in contrast to most different late Jurassic ichthyosaurs, which often had a smaller variety of giant, sturdy tooth. The tiny tooth most likely acted as “cages” to entice prey reminiscent of a squid, says Jacobs.

The animal additionally had sturdy ligaments throughout its neck, again and ribs that may have additionally connected to the bony nodules on its head, making for a stiff head and physique. Its eyes have been significantly huge for its cranium, and its rib cage was notably broad. Even so, Thalassodraco etchesi would have measured solely about 2.5 metres lengthy – fairly small in contrast with most different ichthyosaurs from the identical epoch, says Jacobs.

Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241700

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