Fossils of a giant prehistoric marine reptile that lived 205 million years ago during the Triassic Era are found in an English beach.
The bones apparently can measure up to 85 feet long, almost the size of the blue whale, and is believed to be a species of the ancient ichthyosaur.
The terms ichthyosaur and ichthyopterygia mean fish lizard and fish paddle. These marine reptiles, with bodies similar to tuna or mackerel, are touted one of the fastest fish in the ocean, according to scholars at UC Berkeley.
A study published Monday in the journal PLOS One reported that this is the largest yet of the ichthyosaurs discovered in present time. However, fossils of the same genus that were found in the UK measured about 5 to 11 feet long.
Dating techniques used to determine the age of the fossils reveal that ichthyosaurs dominated the ocean in the late Triassic and early Cretaceous periods, just as when the dinosaurs were on the brink of extinction.
The researchers said they are yet to assign an official name, but the bone will be temporarily referred to as the Lilstock fossil.
Found By Accident
In May 2016, fossil hunter and collector Paul de la Salle found a strange piece of bone buried in the beach sands of Lilstock, Somerset. Following his hunch that it could be from the prehistoric ichthyosaur, he sent two samples to marine labs — one to Dean Lomax at the University of Manchester, and another to Dr. Judy Massare at the SUNY Brockport in New York.
Further testing revealed that the bone resembles the jaw of Shonisaurus sikanniensis, a 69-foot-long species of ichthyosaur first discovered in 2004. Scientists noted that the newly found fossil is actually 25 percent bigger than the largest ichthyosaur discovered so far.
"Of course, such estimates are not entirely realistic because of differences between species. Nonetheless, simple scaling is commonly used to estimate size, especially when [a] comparative material is scarce," Lomax explained.
Lomax and Massare's findings coincided with that of Darren Naish from the University of Southampton. Naish is also a paleontologist, who worked with another team in the assessment of the Aust bones.
"We compared it with these Aust bones, and as soon as I saw it in person, my jaw just hit the floor," said Lomax, referring to the bones dug in a village in Gloucestershire, England. "I realized this was a giant ichthyosaur and the biggest thing ever found in the U.K."
A Glimpse Of The Pangaea
The discovery of the ichthyosaur jawbone sheds light on the mystery of what they once thought as the "dinosaur limb bones". Lomax said that the Lilstock fossil somehow gives a glimpse on the Pangaea, the lone supercontinent of the Earth.
"What is now the United Kingdom would have been surrounded by a warm, tropical sea. On land, it was very hot and dry, with desert-like conditions," Lomax said.
Scientists also found ichthyosaur bones in Scotland's Isle of Skye. The fossil, also called the Storr Locks Monster, measured 13-foot-long and is estimated to exist about 170 million years ago.
On the one hand, another set of bones that were dug up from the dirt in Gujarat, India last year is the most intact so far. The so-called Lodai ichthyosaur lurked the ocean some 150 million years ago.