You do not want to meet an ichthyosaur while taking a dip in the early hours Chalk the seas. It goes double for Sachicarum: This newly identified 130-million-year-old marine reptile, now known from fossils in central Colombia, had larger, more knife-like teeth than other ichthyosaur species, a new study finds – and it says something that ichthyosaurs are famous for their long toothed snouts .
These big teeth would have activated K. sachicarum to attack large prey, such as fish and even other marine reptiles.
“While other ichthyosaurs had small, equal teeth to feed on small prey, this new species changed its tooth sizes and distances to build an arsenal of teeth to send large prey,” said paleontologist Hans Larsson of McGill University’s Redpath Museum in Montreal. Canada, said in a statement.
Related: Fossilized ‘sea lizard’ found inside the body of an old sea monster
A toothy family
Ichthyosaurs were a large group of marine predators that first evolved during Triassic period about 250 million years ago from terrestrial reptiles returning to the ocean. The last species became extinct about 90 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous. With long snouts and big eyes, they looked a bit like swordfish. Most species had jaws lined with small, conical teeth that were good at catching small prey.
The newly identified species was probably at least twice as long as an adult human, based on the size of the fossils that have been found (mostly of a skull and a few pieces of spine and ribs). Probable ichthyosaur fossils were first excavated in Colombia in the 1960s, but scientists could not agree on the species or exactly how ichthyosaurs from the region were related to others from the same time period.
For the new study, Larsson and his colleagues focused on a skull stored in the collections of Colombia’s Museo Geológico Nacional José Royo y Gómez, and also considered another partial skull and bones from the spine and chest stored in Colombia’s Centro de Investigolóicas Pale . Larsson and his colleagues announced the discovery and name of the marine reptile on November 22 in Journal of Systematic Paleontology.
“We compared this animal to other ichthyosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretaceous and were able to define a new type of ichthyosaurs,” said Erin Maxwell of the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, in the statement. “This shakes up the evolutionary tree of ichthyosaurs and lets us test new ideas about how they evolved.”
The researchers named the new ichthyosaur species Kyhytysuka, meaning “the one who cuts with something sharp” in the language of the indigenous Muisca culture of Colombia. There are other species of ichthyosaurs with large teeth to catch large prey, the researchers wrote in the study, but these species are from the beginning Jurassic, at least 44 million years earlier than K. sachicarum.
The new species lived at a time when the supercontinent Pangæa was about to be divided into two land masses – one southern and one northern – and when the earth became warmer and sea levels rose. By the end of Jurassic, the oceans were undergoing an extinction, and deep-feeding ichthyosaur species, marine crocodiles, and short-necked plesiosaurs became extinct. These animals were replaced by sea turtles, long-necked plesiosaurs, marine reptiles called mososaurs that resembled a mixture of a shark and a crocodile, and this huge new ichthyosaur, said co-author Dirley Cortés of McGill’s Redpath Museum.
“We are discovering many new species in the rocks that this new ichthyosaur comes from,” Cortés said in the statement. “We are testing the idea that this region and time in Colombia was an ancient hotspot for biodiversity, and we are using fossils to better understand the evolution of marine ecosystems during this transition period.”
Originally published on Live Science