Discovery of an extinct marine reptile shaped like a swordfish – sciencedaily

A team of international researchers from Canada, Colombia and Germany have discovered a new marine reptile. The specimen, a surprisingly preserved meter-long skull, is one of the last surviving ichthyosaurs, ancient animals that eerily resemble a living swordfish.

“This animal developed a unique dentition that allowed it to eat large prey,” explains Hans Larsson, director of the Redpath Museum at McGill University. “While other ichthyosaurs had small teeth of equal size to feed on small prey, this new species changed the size and spacing of its teeth to build up an arsenal of teeth to send out large prey, like big fish and other marine reptiles. “

“We decided to name him Kyhytysuka which translates to “one who cuts with something sharp” in a language indigenous to the region of central Colombia where the fossil was found, to honor the ancient Muisca culture that had existed there for millennia, ” explains Dirley Cortes, a graduate student supervising Hans Larsson and Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

The big picture of ichthyosaur evolution is clarified with this new species, the researchers say. “We compared this animal to other ichthyosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretaceous and were able to define a new type of ichthyosaur,” explains Erin Maxwell of the National Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart (former graduate student of Hans Larsson’s laboratory at McGill). “It turns the ichthyosaurs evolutionary tree upside down and allows us to test new ideas about how they evolved.”

According to the researchers, this species arose from an important transition period during the Lower Cretaceous. At this time, Earth was emerging from a relatively cold period, sea level was rising, and the Pangea supercontinent was dividing into northern and southern landmasses. There was also a global extinction event at the end of the Jurassic which altered marine and terrestrial ecosystems. “Many classic Jurassic marine ecosystems of deep-water-feeding ichthyosaurs, short-necked plesiosaurs, and sea-adapted crocodiles have been replaced by new lineages of long-necked plesiosaurs, sea turtles, large lizards. sailors called mosasaurs, and now this ichthyosaur monster, ”says Dirley Cortés.

“We are discovering many new species in the rocks from which this new ichthyosaur originated. We are testing the idea that this region and this time in Colombia was a former biodiversity hotspot and using the fossils to better understand the evolution of marine ecosystems during this time of transition, ”she adds. As next steps, researchers continue to explore the wealth of new fossils preserved in the Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas of Villa de Leyva in Colombia. “This is where I grew up,” Cortes says, “and it’s so rewarding to be able to do research here too.”

Kyhytysuka video:

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