Researchers found at the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hannover, Germany, an unstudied Ichthyosaurus fossil that’s now considered to be the largest ever discovered. The adult female is not only estimated to measure between 3 and 3.5 meters in length (11ft), it also has an embryo inside of its belly.

According to the study published by the Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, this is the first time the remarkably well-preserved Ichthyosaurus or “sea dragon” is studied after it was found in the mid-1990s at the Somerset coast of England.

Rendition of an Icthyosaurus carrying a baby. Image Credit: Joschua Knuppe
A rendition of an Ichthyosaurus carrying a baby. Image Credit: Joschua Knuppe

Researchers from the UK and Germany told the media that the fantastic marine beast lived at the beginning of the Jurassic period, 200 million years ago. This is the third ichthyosaur discovered with a fetus inside of it, which scientists estimate measures 7 centimeters long. It has well-preserved vertebrae, a forefin, ribs, and a few other bones.

One of the most notorious aquatic “dinosaurs.”

The first Ichthyosaurus was discovered in 1821 by Henry De la Beche and William Conybeare. It’s similar to a modern dolphin, and its name means “fish lizard” in Greek. According to New Dinosaurs, the prehistorical creature was approximately 6 feet in length and weighed around 200 pounds. It reached high levels of velocity compared to other marine animals – around 21 miles per hour (36 km) – due to its elongated body, small sail-fin on its back and aquadynamic flippers. It hunted fish and squids with its large snout full of tiny razor-like teeth.

Ichthyosaurus impressively adapted themselves. They stopped laying eggs and started to give birth to its young life. These came out by the beast’s tail so that they could breathe air from the very beginning.

Sea dragons extinguished about 90 million years ago. They cannot be called dinosaur because these marine reptiles appeared long before the first dinosaur evolved. It’s believed this creature evolved into an unidentified reptile able to move between the land and the water with any problem.

“It amazes me that specimens such as this [the biggest] can still be ‘rediscovered’ in museum collections,” said the UK paleontologist Dean Lomax, who was contacted by Sven Sachs after he saw the fossil on display at the Lower Saxony State Museaum. ”You don’t necessarily have to go out in the field to make a new discovery.”

A routine visit ended up in a great discover

The species has been commonly found in the UK – according to a new research published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – which means that there might be a lot of other isolated bones around the UK coasts waiting to be discovered. However, this creature was found in the mid-1990s at Doniford Bay, Somerset, by a group of paleontologists, and then delivered to the German museum.

In a routine visit to the Lower Saxony Museum paleontologist and Ichthyosaur expert, Dean Lomax from the University of Manchester studied the marine beast’s fossil.

The Icthyosaurus fossil at the museum in Hannover. Image Credit: Science Daily
The Ichthyosaurus fossil at the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hannover. Image Credit: Science Daily

Researchers later found that the Ichthyosaurus fossil is the largest ever recorded, and the third with an embryo inside of its belly. Paleontologists estimated that the beast measures between 3 and 3.5 meters in length, and that the fetus’ vertebrae – which are also extremely well preserved – measure 7 centimeters.

However, the embryo fossil was not complete when it was found, according to the AAAS.

“It is often important to examine fossils with a very critical eye,” said Sven Sachs. “Sometimes, as in this instance, specimens aren’t exactly what they appear to be. However, it was not ‘put together’ to represent a fake, but simply for a better display specimen. But, if ‘fake’ portions remain undetected then scientists can fall foul to this, which results in false information presented in the published record.”

Lower Saxony State Museum also displays another impressive sea creature

Paleontologists also studied a second marine beast, but this time the creature analyzed was a plesiosaur’s fossil. Considered the oldest of its kind, the skeleton of the new plesiosaur species christened Lagenanectes richterae is very similar to the mythological creature known as the Loch Ness Monster.

The animal is displayed at the Lower Saxony State Museum and is considered the longest prehistoric marine reptile ever recorded due to it necks of 75 vertebrae. For hunting, the creature had grooves in the upper part of its mouth, which let it feel the prey coming as it approached.

However, researchers estimate that the Ichthyosaurus species is even older. The first plesiosaur was identified around 132 million years ago, 68 million years after the prehistoric dolphin.

Source: National Geographic