The Huge Tooth of a Giant Ichthyosaur Points to Sturdy Biting Sea Creatures | Paleontology


The remains of a huge sea creature with huge teeth that could have helped it capture giant squids have been found in the Swiss Alps.

Ichthyosaurs were large marine reptiles with an elongated, serpentine shape. They first appeared after the end of the Permian extinction event, also known as the “Great Death”, which occurred around 250 million years ago and wiped out more than two-thirds of terrestrial species and 96% of marine species.

The toothy beast is one of three giant ichthyosaurs discovered in the Swiss Alps and is believed to have lived in the Late Triassic, around 205 million years ago, which could make it one of the last behemoths.

The team said the findings helped solve the puzzle of whether giant ichthyosaurs, like some smaller species of creatures, had teeth.

Professor Martin Sander, from the University of Bonn, co-author of the study, said: “All of this is very, very little evidence. These ghosts have been swimming in Late Triassic oceans for tens of millions of years, and we don’t know what they look like. It’s a disgrace to paleontology.

“For a while we thought they had teeth. Then we thought, well, we never find teeth. Now we have a giant’s tooth and a giant’s tooth. So some of between them have teeth.

The whale-sized ichthyosaurs, right, are thought to have occasionally visited shallow waters. Photo: Jeannette Rüegg/Heinz Furrer/University of Zurich

Write in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology the team describes how they discovered fossils of three giant ichthyosaurs at different sites in the Kössen Formation between 1976 and 1990.

A fossil of one of the beasts was an incomplete tooth 10 cm long. The team found a huge vertebra and rib fragments attached to another. The fossils of the third included seven large vertebrae. Sander said none of the remains appeared to belong to a known species of ichthyosaur.

The team say the tooth, which is missing most of its crown, is only the second to come from a giant ichthyosaur and is the largest ever found for such a creature, surpassing those of a known species. under the name of Himalayasauruswhich was discovered in China and believed to have a body length of around 15 meters.

“Ichthyosaurs have a very characteristic tooth structure that is visible in the root and also in the crown,” Sander said, adding that the toothy giant discovered in the Alps would likely have eaten smaller ichthyosaurs and giant squids.

Sander said one of the creatures appeared to have been about the same size as Himalayasauruswhile the other two, including the toothy beast, were probably similar in size to the giant ichthyosaur Shastasaurus, a creature previously found in British Columbia that was about 21 meters long – about two double-decker bus lengths. “This skeleton had vertebrae the same diameter as those in the Alps,” Sander said.

But these are not the largest ichthyosaurs known to have lived. Among other discoveries, a toothless jaw discovered in the Bristol Channel is said to have belonged to an ichthyosaur about 26 meters long.

Shonisaurus, another member of the ichthyosaur genus from the Triassic period
Shonisaurus, another member of the ichthyosaur genus from the Triassic period. Photograph: Stocktrek Images/Alamy

As the ichthyosaurs roamed the oceans, the newly reported remains were deposited in what was once a lagoon, suggesting the beasts went into shallow waters. “It’s kind of the same problem when you catch a sperm whale in the North Sea,” Sander said.

Dr Ben Moon, a University of Bristol paleontologist who was not involved in the work, said it was possible the creatures entered shallow water to mate or give birth. He said the new report was exciting because there were few giant ichthyosaur fossils.

Dr Nick Fraser, a paleontologist at the National Museums Scotland, said it was difficult to determine the size of a giant ichthyosaur based on a single tooth, but the findings shed new light on reptiles.

“Until now, we suspected that most larger ichthyosaurs were toothless and sucker-feeding,” he said, adding that the size of the newly reported tooth was staggering.

“The owner of this tooth was not to be disturbed,” Fraser said. “In addition to the remains of vertebrae and ribs, here is concrete evidence that in the past Triassic waters were home to truly massive oceanic reptiles, perhaps as large as the living blue whale, and some probably had enormous jaws armed with strong teeth.”


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