Nearly intact ichthyosaur skeleton discovered in India

For the first time in history, scientists have uncovered an near complete ichthyosaur skeleton in India.
By Jackie Flores | Oct 27, 2017
A team of researchers from both the University of Delhi and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg have uncovered a series of bones in northwest India that belong to one of the best preserved ichthyosaur specimens ever found, a new study in PLOS One reports.

Ichthyosaurs were an ancient a group of marine reptiles that existed some 150 million years ago. The predators had huge eyes, narrow jaws, and cone-shaped teeth.

The one uncovered in the recent study lived between 152 and 157 million years ago and is the most complete fossil ever found in the region.

"This is a fantastic discovery, and is by far the best ichthyosaur skeleton ever found in India," said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved with the study, according to National Geographic Australia. "Ichthyosaur fossils are well known from the northern continents but are very rare down south."

Researchers found the skeleton just south of the village of Lodai -- which sits in India's Gujarat province -- during an excavation in 2016. The bones were embedded in hard sedimentary rock, making the remains hard to recover. After more than 1,500 hours of digging, the team finally managed to retrieve thebeautifully preserved bones.

Not only is the fossil the most complete Indian ichthyosaur ever found, it is also the first Jurassic-era specimen recovered in the country. All previous fossils are roughly 50 million years younger and only consist of isolated teeth or poorly preserved vertebrae.

While the ichthyosaur was alive, its environment would have been covered by a tropical sea. It ate tough prey like armored fish and is closely related to species that have been found much farther north.

That information, compiled with invertebrate fossil evidence, suggests the species must have spread across the globe through a massive seaway that once crossed the ancient continent of Gondwanaland.As a result, the new discovery could help paleontologists better understand how marine life spread throughout Jurassic oceans. The bones could also reveal many secrets about ichthyosaur evolution and shed light on the biogeography of the ancient species.

"This find helps to show how globally widespread ichthyosaurs were during the time of dinosaurs," added Brusatte. "They seem to have lived everywhere in the oceans, all over the world, at the same time dinosaurs were thundering across the land."

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