The mysterious marine reptile, which appeared 150 million years ago, turned out to be a new species capable of diving to very great depths. A well-preserved specimen was found in Late Jurassic deepwater sediments along the English Channel in Dorset, England.
According to paleontologist Megan L. Jacobs, a Baylor University doctoral student and co-author of the published study, the specimen was from the ichthyosaur group. And this ichthyosaur has several differences that make it unique.
The specimen, about 1.8 m long, was discovered in 2009 by the fossil collector Steve Etches. The exhibit has since been housed in The Etches Collection, the Jurassic Museum of Marine Life in Kimmeridge, Dorset. Jacobs named it Thalassodraco etchesi, which means Sea Dragon Etchesi, after the museum.
“Now that the new ‘sea dragon’ has been officially named, it’s time to study its biology,” said study co-author David Martil, Ph.D., professor of paleontology at the University of Portsmouth, UK. “There are several things that make this animal special.”
This animal is unlike other ichthyosaurs. They appear to have dived deep, such as sperm whales. This is indicated by the bottomless rib cage, which allowed the larger lungs to hold their breath for extended periods. The skeleton’s special structure did not allow the internal organs to deform under pressure. He also has enormous eyes, which means he could see well, even in the dark at a depth where there was no light.
With a deep rib cage, she said, the creature would look a lot like a barrel. Considering his relatively small fins, he could swim in a different style from other ichthyosaurs.
Hundreds of tiny teeth in this specimen would be fine for a diet of squid and small fish, and “the teeth are unique in that they are absolutely smooth,” concludes Jacobs. “All other ichthyosaurs have larger teeth with prominent striped ridges on them. We immediately realized that this animal was different from its species. ”
The new specimen probably died of old age or attack by predators and then sank to the seabed.