Partially preserved fossil of a Jurassic-era ichthyosaur was found in the Kachchh region in India. The find is exceptional, as most complete ichthyosaur fossil finds in the past have been in South America and Australia.
'Fish Lizard' Fossil
Partially complete fossil of an Upper Jurassic-era ichthyosaur was found in a region of India believed to be covered in oceans millions of years ago. Though parts of the skull and tail are missing from the specimen, the fossil likely represents a massive creature that is about 5.0 to 5.5 meters in length.
Ichthyosaurs are marine reptiles that are often referred to as "fish lizards." They were a highly successful group of marine creatures that survived until the middle Late Cretaceous period, and are said to resemble modern day dolphins and whales. They lived between 90 and 250 million years ago when supercontinent Pangaea was breaking into Laurasia and Gondwana. They were top marine predators whose main competitors were ancient sharks, other marine reptiles, and plesiosaurs.
Along with the Ichthyosaur fossil were remains of smaller marine creatures such as molluscs. Upon studying the wear patterns on the creature's teeth, researchers gather that the ichthyosaur in question likely fed on hard and abrasive food sources such as molluscs, other marine reptiles, and ancient fish.
At present, researchers have not categorically stated the creature's exact species in the currently known Jurassic ichthyosaur taxa, but current data suggests the creature's resemblance to Ophthalmosaurus, Arthropterygius and Aegirosaurus.
First Almost Complete Ichthyosaur Fossil In India
Though their population distribution is believed to be worldwide, fossil records in recent years mostly came from North America, South America, and Europe, with the most exceptionally-preserved ichthyosaur fossils coming from Germany, England, and North America.
"Vertebrate fossils are rare from the Kachchh region, and we were expecting only bone fragments from this area. So, to find a near-complete skeleton is surprising as well as exciting," said study lead author Guntupalli Prasad in an interview.
For this reason, the current fossil find is exceptional, as previous Ichthyosaur fossil discoveries in India have merely been fragments of vertebrae and teeth. What's more, the mere presence of the creature alone suggests that perhaps a marine seaway may have connected South America to the western Tethys through the Indian Ocean.
As such, researchers are continuous in their search for other ichthyosaur fossils in the region, in hopes of finding more ichthyosaur fossils, as well as other ancient marine reptiles.
Their findings were published in PLoS ONE.