New Ichthyosaur Specimen Changes History
A New German discovery has put the brakes on what we currently understand as the truth behind the history of fossils. The new finding of a rare ichthyosaur leads to more questions than it does answers but in this article we will discuss this new finding and its implications. Among topics we will cover include: the previously understood fossil timeline, the discovery of the newest Ichthyosaur and what this discovery means to paleontologists, geologists and historians worldwide.
What is the Ichthyosaur?
The Ichthyosaur Was Similar to Today’s Porpoise
The ichthyosaur is a species of giant marine reptile, which according to fossil discovery first appeared during the middle of the Triassic period. Ichthyosaurs were somewhat similar in appearance to prehistoric porpoise although they could (and did) often grow to more than twelve feet long. While the body of the Ichthyosaur was an average of seven feet longer than that of the modern day porpoise, the head of the ichthyosaur was much more similar. The snout of the ichthyosaur is depicted as being much longer than that of the porpoise but the shape is much more similar than that of any other modern day animal.
The Order Ichthyosauria
The order Ichthyosauria is divided in to two subgroups: Cymbospondylidar and Hueneosauria. While each of these subgroups differed there are a number of characteristics that members of the Ichthyosauria order have in common. Most members of this subgroup were evolved to facilitate speed so that they could hunt efficiently in the water and dive for prey. It is believed that the average Ichthyosaur was capable of swimming up to twenty five miles per hour! Ichthyosaurs were also air breathing reptiles with warm-blooded metabolisms. Uniquely however, ichthyosaurs were also able to generate endothermic heat that enabled them to survive in much colder bio-systems.
The Decline of the Ichthyosaurs
The ichthyosaur is believed to have lived through until the late Cretaceous period some ninety million years ago. It is believed that this incredible marine reptile evolved from land reptiles and moved back in to the water – a path of evolution that is commonly thought to be similar to that of the dolphins and whales of today. The ichthyosaur was most prevalent during the Jurassic period but paleontologists believe that the rise of plesiosaurs during the Cretaceous period led to the steady decline of the order Ichthyosauria.
The Previous Ichthyosaur Timeline
It was believed that the very first Ichthyosaur species, primitive though they were, made their first appearance during the Triassic period. These early Ichthyosaurs have been found in Norway, China, Japan and Canada. These early species of Ichthyosaur have, since their initial discovery been labeled as Ichthyopterygia and not “true” Ichthyosaurs that are believed to have evolved from Ichthyopterygia between the early Triassic period and the middle of the Triassic period. As the Ichthyosaur order began to diversify numerous species began to develop; however, by the middle Jurassic period this diversity of species began to decline and as the Cretaceous period began only three genera were to be found. According to previous fossil records the very last of the Ichthyosaur genera became extinct during the late Cretaceous period in what is known as the Cenomanian-Turonian extinction event. This extinction of ichthyosaurs was believed to have resulted from overspecialization of these fish hunters as new fish species developed. This theory is now being questioned, however, after a German discovery in 2005.
The 2005 German Ichthyosaur Discovery
In 2005 in Braunschweig, northern Germany during road works an ichthyosaur specimen was uncovered that dates to the lower Cretaceous era. The discovery of the German Ichthyosaur is unique in that the majority of similar Ichthyosaur specimens are dated to the Jurassic era which came millions of years before the Cretaceous era. This new Ichthyosaur fossil, names the Acamptonectes densus had such tightly stacked vertebrae in its neck that it would have been unable to move its neck to track prey. This Ichthyosaur specimen is not entirely unique however, since a similar specimen has already been discovered in the North of England in 1958. The English specimen was named the Speeton Clay ichthyosaur.
Changes to the Previous Ichthyosaur Timeline
The discovery of the German ichthyosaur species that dates to the Cretaceous period may or may not change things as you view them in terms of the Ichthyosaur timeline. There are those who believe that the Ichthyosaur order was almost completely extinct within the Jurassic era. For those who buy in to the Jurassic extinction, this new finding changes the extinction timeline completely. There are also those, however, who believe that the disappearance of the ichthyosaur was a slow and steady decline that began with less diversification and eventually led to extinction. For those who believe that the ichthyosaurs did not completely disappear until the late Cretaceous period as in the theory mentioned earlier in this article, this German finding changes very little.
What Does the German Ichthyosaur Finding Mean?
Depending upon your beliefs in relation to the general time line of the Ichthyosaur extinction this finding can mean a great deal to you or, nothing at all. Regardless of the fact that this finding may or may not point to a change in the evolutionary timeline however, this discovery does leave a mark on paleontological history. Not every paleontological finding can be Earth shattering and change the way that we view the timeline of history; however, every discovery does lend itself to understanding more about the history of life on our planet. The newly discovered ichthyosaur does not have to make changes in the timeline for an entire order of reptiles to be significant, for paleontologists simply finding another specimen to research is enough to brag about. So just what can this newly recovered specimen tell us? Well, it can tell us that those who believed that ichthyosaurs died out completely in the Jurassic era were wrong in their assumptions. This specimen can also tell us that a species of Ichthyosaur that was once found in England was also native to what is now Germany, proving that the bio-systems of the two waterways of these areas were similar during the Cretaceous period.