April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In a new report, a multinational research team details the recovery of a fossil marine predator. The animal, which measured about 28 feet in length, was recovered from the Nevada desert in 2010. This fossil, found in what is today a remote mountain range, represents the first top predator in marine food chains feeding on prey similar to its own size. A major portion of the animal was preserved, including the skull, parts of the fins, and the complete vertebral column.
Thalattoarchon saurophagis — lizard eating sovereign of the sea — lived approximately 244 million years ago. The fossil is an early representative of the ichthyosaurs, which were a group of marine reptiles that lived at the same time as dinosaurs. The Ichthyosaurs prowled the oceans for approximately 160 million years. T. saurophagis had a massive skull with jaws filled with large teeth with cutting edges used to seize and slice through other marine reptiles throughout the Triassic seas. T. saurophagis — a meta-predator – was comparable to modern day orca whales, capable of feeding on animals with bodies similar in size to its own.
A severe extinction at the end of the Permian period killed as many as 80 to 96 percent of species in the Earth’s oceans and occurred only eight million years prior to the appearance of T. saurophagis. The fast recovery and evolution of a modern ecosystem structure after the extinction is documented by the rise of such a predator.
“Every day we learn more about the biodiversity of our planet including living and fossil species and their ecosystems” Dr. FrÃ¶bisch of the Museum fÃ¼r Naturkunde Leibniz-Institut fÃ¼r Evolutions- und BiodiversitÃ¤tsforschung, said. “The new find characterizes the establishment of a new and more advanced level of ecosystem structure. Findings like Thalattoarchon help us to understand the dynamics of our evolving planet and ultimately the impact humans have on today’s environment.”
“This discovery is a good example of how we study the past in order to illuminate the future,” said Dr. Rieppel of The Field Museum.
The findings of this study were recently published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.