The giant marine reptiles ichthyosaurs, which flourished through most of the Mesozoic era and existed between 250 and 90 million years ago, have been known to science since the early 19th century. But a recent discovery by scientists reveals new details about these long-extinct creatures that could significantly affect our understanding of their evolution.
According to Heritage Daily, paleontologists have found a large number of ichthyosaur fossils on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, 1,300 km from the North Pole. The study of these remains showed that these animals probably arose earlier than science had previously assumed.
Prior to this, scientists had concluded that ichthyosaurs and other ichthyosauromorphs descended from a group of unidentified land reptiles that returned to the sea. Gradually, they switched from a semi-aquatic to an aquatic lifestyle and developed flippers in place of their limbs. Their body took on a shape similar to the shape of the body of modern fish, and over time, the animals began to give birth to live babies right in the water, like modern whales or sharks, thereby finally breaking their connection with the land.
Specialists from the University of Oslo analyzed the new finds, which are well preserved thanks to limestone deposits that have settled around the animal remains. So scientists managed to find bony fish and bones of amphibians, which they called “crocodile-like”. Also found in the limestone were 11 articulated tail vertebrae, inherent in ichthyosaurs. At first glance, they turned out to be too ancient compared to the period of existence of these animals.
But it turned out that in this case we are not talking about the amphibious ancestor of the ichthyosaur, since the comparison showed that the finds fully corresponded to the vertebrae of the “younger” ichthyosaurs, which were large. Even the internal microstructure of the bones matched. This led scientists to speculate that the animals found had adaptive traits of rapid growth, increased metabolism, and a completely oceanic lifestyle.
Analysis of the surrounding geological rocks has shown that it is about two million years later than the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period. This means that ichthyosaurs may be older than dinosaurs. They probably first spread to a mass extinction event.
This could completely revolutionize science’s understanding of the appearance of the first major groups of prehistoric reptile species. Now we can confidently say that some of them existed earlier than scientists thought. Thus, researchers should continue their search for the oldest reptiles in Svalbard and other parts of the world.
Earlier, GLOBAL HAPPENINGS talked about an unusual discovery of a nest with the remains of an incubating dinosaur egg.
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