Marine Science in the News: Discovery of a prehistoric marine predator as big as a bus

“Lizard-eating sovereign of the sea” – what a name!

While this discovery happened some years ago, we thought it was just too cool not to share! This aptly named 28-foot-long prehistoric sea creature was fully unearthed in Nevada after researchers first spotted it in 1998. The fossil was unusually well-preserved and included the skull, fins and entire vertebral column. Researchers returned to the site in 2010 to dig up the rest of the fossil and more thoroughly examine its large jaw filled with massive sharp teeth. Check out an artist's illustration of the ocean predator below:

Thalattoarchon saurophagis is the largest marine reptile ever found. These ocean-dwelling dinosaurs lived about 244 million years ago during the Triassic Period. Because of how groups of Thalattoarchon fossils are oriented, paleontologists and other scientists believe these predators traveled in groups. They had sharp teeth large enough to carve up other marine reptiles. It is the first account of an ocean predator able to eat prey its own size!

Despite thriving and ruling the seas, numbers of T. saurophagis gradually declined and eventually they disappeared for unknown reasons. The unearthing of the entire fossil has provided great insight into the lives of prehistoric marine predators as it was the evolutionary end-of-the-line for these reptiles, leaving no relatives after their extinction.

For a wonderful interactive timeline depicting ancient sea creatures and their life history, visit National Geographic's "Monsters of the Ancient Sea".

Journal reference:

Frobisch, N.B., J. Frobisch, P.M. Sander, L. Schmitz and O. Rieppel. 2013. Macropredatory ichthyosaur from the Middle Triassic and the origin of modern trophic networks. PNAS 110(4):1393-1397. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1216750110.

To read the entire article for free, click here.

Press release: "Bus-size sea monster found, took on prey its own size". By Brian Handwerk, National Geographic News. Written January 9, 2013.

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