The fossil of a 55-foot-long Triassic sea monster, which lived during the early dinosaur age, has reportedly been found in Nevada.
According to LiveScience, the fossil is that of the sea monster, which is suggested to be ichthyosaurs (fish-shaped marine reptiles), grew to gigantic sizes extremely quickly. The growth spanned was only 2.5 million years. The science news website stated that it took whales about 90% of their 55 million-year history to reach huge sizes that ichthyosaurs evolved to in the first 1% of their 150 million-year history.
Speaking about the fossil, Senior Researcher and Associate Professor of Biology at Scripps College, Lars Schmitz, stated, “We have discovered that ichthyosaurs evolved gigantism much faster than whales. [Especially] in a time where the world was recovering from devastating extinction. At the end of the Permian Period.”
Schmitz also stated that the fossil is a glimmer of hope and a sign of the resilience of life. “If environmental conditions are right, evolution can happen very fast, and life can bounce back.”
When Were Fossils of Ichthyosaurs First Discovered
LiveScience also reported that researchers first noticed the fossils of ichthyosaurs in 1998. It was discovered in the rocks of the Augusta Mountains. Located in Northwestern Nevada. Schmitz explained, “Only a few vertebrae were sticking out of the rock. But it was clear the animal was large.”
However, it wasn’t until 2015 and with a help of a helicopter that the researchers were able to fully excavate an ichthyosaur. The fossil notably included a skull, shoulder, and flipper-like appendage. The fossil is at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for analysis.
The team that discovered the recent fossil named the species Cymbospondylus youngorum. The “big-jawed” Maine reptile notably lived 247 million years ago during the Triassic period. While describing the species, Schmitz said, “Imagine a sea-dragon-like animal. Streamlined body, quite long, with limbs, modified to fins. And a long tail.”
The fossil also had a 6.5-foot-long skull. The creature apparently lived in the Panthalassic Ocean, a so-called superocean, off the west coast of North America. Schmitz explained that it likely ate smaller ichthyosaurs, fish, and possibly squid.
The C. youngorum lived just 5 million years after the Great Dying. This was a mass extinction event that occurred 252 million years ago. It ended the Permian period. It also killed about 90% of the world’s species. Schmitz also explained, “This new fossil impressively documents the fast-track evolution of gigantism in ichthyosaurs. [In contrast, whales] took a different route to gigantism, much more prolonged and not nearly as fast.”
Paleontologists Lene Delsett and Nicholas Pyenson add, “Ichthyosaur history tells us ocean giants are not guaranteed features of marine ecosystems. Which is a valuable lesson for all of us in the Anthropocene.”