Largest Ichthyosaurus was pregnant when she perished

"This specimen provides new insights into the size range of the species, but also records only the third example of an Ichthyosaurus known with an embryo," said researcher Dean Lomax.
By Brooks Hays  |  Aug. 28, 2017 at 1:23 PM
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Aug. 28 (UPI) -- The largest Ichthyosaurus specimen in the fossil record was pregnant with a mini marine reptile.

New analysis of the Ichthyosaurus fossil, first recovered from the Somerset coast in the mid 1990s, revealed an expecting mother.

Ichthyosaurus is a genus of ichthyosaurs, a group of dolphin-like reptiles that was highly successful during the Jurassic and early Cretaceous. Ichthyosaurs died out along with the dinosaurs some 90 million years ago.

Ichthyosaurus species were significantly smaller than their ichthyosaur relatives. The newest specimen -- the largest Ichthyosaurus yet recovered -- measured roughly 11 feet in length. The largest ichthyosaurs stretched 65 feet in length.

Prior to the latest analysis, the specimen sat unstudied in storage for more than two decades at the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hannover, Germany.

Scientists identified the specimen as an example of the species Ichthyosaurus somersetensis, a classification only recently discovered.

"It amazes me that specimens such as this [the biggest] can still be 'rediscovered' in museum collections," Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, said in a news release. "You don't necessarily have to go out in the field to make a new discovery. This specimen provides new insights into the size range of the species, but also records only the third example of an Ichthyosaurus known with an embryo. That's special."

Researchers determined that the bones of the specimen's embryo were not fully ossified, which suggests the embryo was still developing.

Scientists described the Ichthyosaurus specimen in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

"Specimens like this provide palaeontologists with important information about when these animals lived. Many examples of Ichthyosaurus are from historical collections and most do not have good geographical or geological records, but this specimen has it all. It may help to date other ichthyosaur fossils that currently have no information."

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