Published: Wed, April 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By Brandy Patterson

Fossil revealed to belong to one of the largest animals ever

Fossil revealed to belong to one of the largest animals ever

Dinosaurs may hog the Mesozoic spotlight, but some of the neatest finds of recent note in paleontology come from under the sea: a very pregnant ichthyosaur and the partial remains of another that was a supersized specimen (think blue whale territory).

They appeared in the Triassic, reached their peak in the Jurassic, then disappeared in the Cretaceous - several million years before the last dinosaurs died out.

The researchers said they are yet to assign an official name, but the bone will be temporarily referred to as the Lilstock fossil. De la Salle realised he was looking at the lower jaw of a huge ichthyosaur, an ancient type of marine reptile that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.

Here lies the biggest species of ichthyosaur ever found, namely Shonisaurus sikanniensis.

Given that researchers have only a few pieces of the lower jaw, they can not definitively say whether the new ichthyosaur is also Shonisaurus, or just a similar but separate species. Other comparisons suggest the Lilstock ichthyosaur was at least 20-25 m.

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The researchers estimated the animal's length by comparing this surangular to the same bone in the largest ichthyosaur skeleton ever found, a species called Shonisaurus sikanniensis from British Columbia that was 21 metres (69 feet) long.

When fossil collector Paul De la Salle discovered pieces of a giant bone on Lilstock beach in Somerset in May 2016, he didn't realise he had stumbled on a clue to a near 170-year-old mystery. On this context, nothing found on the Patagotitan, the biggest animal (non-aquatic) to ever be on the earth at 37 m (122 ft) long and weighing around 70 tons.

Scientists always get confused with the dinosaur fossils and the Ichthyosaur fossils due to their large size.

He first thought it was a piece of rock but after seeing a distinctive "groove and bone structure" realised it might be part of an ichthyosaur.

"As the specimen is represented only by a large piece of jaw, it is hard to provide a size estimate, but by using a simple scaling factor and comparing the same bone in S. sikanniensis, the Lilstock specimen is about 25 percent larger", says Lomax.

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Scientists also found ichthyosaur bones in Scotland's Isle of Skye.

"Every fossil tells a story", said Dean Lomax.

"Of course, such estimates are not entirely realistic because of differences between species", Lomax said in a statement. "We argue here that the Aust bones, previously identified as those of dinosaurs or large terrestrial archosaurs, are jaw fragments from giant ichthyosaurs". "Nonetheless, simple scaling is commonly used to estimate size, especially when [a] comparative material is scarce", Lomax explained.

The bone fragments of the long-extinct fish predator were spotted on the beach at Lilstock, Somerset in May 2016, and together they measure about 96 centimetres, said the report in the journal PLOS One.

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