RENO, Nevada (AP) — First, the beer was named after the fossil.
Now it’s come full circle, as a species of fossil found in Nevada bears the name of the beer maker.
The first giant creature to inhabit the earth, the ichthyosaur, dominated the earth’s oceans during the Triassic period. Almost 2.5 million years later, in 1993, the Great Basin Brewing Company in Sparks released the Ichthyosaur IPA in honor of the extinct creature.
And since late last year, one of the earliest species of ichthyosaurs has come to be known as Cymbospondylus youngorum, named after Tom and Bonda Young of the Great Basin Brewing Company. The name was announced at a ceremony at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles in December.
The fossil was found in northern Nevada, about 120 miles east of Reno, and is currently on display at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.
The Youngs established the Great Basin Brewing Company in Sparks in 1993. Before brewing beer, Tom was a geologist. His interest in fossils led him to name one of his first beers after the ichthyosaur.
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The ancient Leviathan has regional ties. The creature, which predates the dinosaurs, lived in what is now Nevada when the continents were still joined together and Nevada was under an ocean. An ichthyosaur fossil was discovered in Nevada in 1928 in what is now Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park near Gabbs, at the site of the largest known concentration of ichthyosaur fossils in the world. One species of ichthyosaur, Shonisaurus popularis, was named a state fossil in 1977.
A German fossil-hunting team in Nevada learned of the existence of beer, which led them to Great Basin Brewing and the Youngs. In 2011, this team found another ichthyosaur in Nevada, and the Youngs aided the excavation and removal process with monetary donations, as well as food and beer, and then transporting the fossil skull from 55 feet in Los Angeles in a Great Basin Beer Truck.
In December, the museum honored the Youngs by naming the fossil after them – the “Young” part of the scientific name.
Replicas of the specimen have been delivered to Great Basin and will be displayed at the Sparks and Reno locations.
Dr. Martin Sander, a paleontologist at the University of Bonn and research associate at the Dinosaur Institute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, was the leader in extracting the fossil and bringing it to the National History Museum.
Sander told RGJ in 2020 that he was in the Augusta Mountains outside of Winnemucca in October 2011, and at an outcrop about 6,000 feet (1,829 meters) up, he spotted what appeared to be fossilized remains of an ichthyosaur spine.
The specimen was excavated from a rock unit called “Fossil Hill Member” in the Augusta Mountains of Nevada, 66 km northwest of Austin.
To find it, we had to dig.
He said only a few vertebrae were exposed on the side of the canyon. However, the anatomy of the vertebrae suggested that the front end of the animal might still be hidden in the rocks.
His crew then went to uncover the skull, forelimbs and chest area.
The next day, as the cold and snow approached, the team packed up the exposed fossils for further research. They came back in 2014 and excavated the rest.
The well-preserved skull, along with part of the spine, shoulder and fore fin, dates back to the Middle Triassic (247.2-237 million years ago) and is the earliest case of a ichthyosaur reaching giant proportions.
It was as big as a large sperm whale at nearly 56 feet (17 meters) and is the largest animal ever discovered at that time, either on land or in the sea.
Extracting the fossil was an expensive proposition. The crew lived in the desert for several weeks during the excavation and had to hire a helicopter to help move it.
There was evidence that the large prehistoric swimming reptile was pregnant when it died.
The ichthyosaur was the second oldest gravid specimen ever found and it belonged to a species that had never been identified before. It was just one of two major ichthyosaur finds at this location in the Augusta Mountains.
An NHM spokesperson said the elongated snout and conical teeth suggest C. youngorum fed on squid and fish, but its size meant it could also have hunted smaller, juvenile marine reptiles.
Tom Young is thrilled with the discovery and exhibit of the ichthyosaur.
“It just makes my heart sing when I see people, he’s one of the best scientists in the world, and he brings it down to my level and I get it,” Young said. “Nevada is such a unique place. It is the first giant. It’s pretty cool.
Young joked that he had a different idea for the name.
“I was voting for ‘Beerosaurus’ personally,” he said.
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