Oldest Sea Reptile Found On Arctic Island Mountain

Ancient remains of a terrifying 250-million-year-old sea reptile have been found halfway up a mountain in Norway.

The ichthyosaur fossil shows that the feared ocean predator apparently existed long before scientists previously thought.

The remains were taken from rocks from mountain ranges in Spitsbergen, Norway’s remote Arctic climate island that once formed the sea bed.

Ichthyosaurs are traditionally thought to have evolved and thrived alongside dinosaurs in the Mesozoic era.

Image shows a reconstruction of the earliest ichthyosaur and the 250-million-year-old ecosystem found on Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway, undated photo. A team of Swedish and Norwegian palaeontologists has discovered remains of the earliest known ichthyosaur or ‘fish-lizard’ on the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen. (Esther van Hulsen/Newsflash)

But the newly-discovered fossils reportedly show the creatures evolved much earlier.

The new fossils reportedly include 11 vertebrae and 15 bone fragments, which Benjamin Kear at Uppsala University in Sweden and his colleagues in the University of Oslo, in Norway believe are from an ichthyopterygian.

These eel-like reptiles are said to have lived in water and were ancestral to the dolphin-shaped ichthyosaurs.

The experts then carried out numerous analyses from rock chemistry to microscopic bone structure.

The University of Uppsala said in a statement obtained by Newsflash: “Unexpectedly, these vertebrae occurred within rocks that were supposedly too old for ichthyosaurs.

“Also, rather than representing the textbook example of an amphibious ichthyosaur ancestor, the vertebrae are identical to those of geologically much younger larger-bodied ichthyosaurs, and even preserve internal bone microstructure showing adaptive hallmarks of fast growth, elevated metabolism and a fully oceanic lifestyle.”

Kear said: “The vertebrae turned out to be from a highly advanced, fast-growing, probably warm-blooded and fully oceanic ichthyosaur.”

Image shows a computed tomography image and cross-section showing internal bone structure of vertebrae from the earliest ichthyosaur, undated photo. A team of Swedish and Norwegian palaeontologists has discovered remains of the earliest known ichthyosaur or ‘fish-lizard’ on the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen. (Oyvind Hammer and Jorn Hurum/Newsflash)

The remains were reportedly enclosed in a rock layer which dates to nearly two million years after the end of the mass extinction, making them the earliest ichthyopterygian fossils found to date.

The university said: “Close to the hunting cabins on the southern shore of Ice Fjord in western Spitsbergen, Flower’s valley cuts through snow-capped mountains exposing rock layers that were once mud at the bottom of the sea around 250 million years ago.

“A fast-flowing river fed by snow melt has eroded away the mudstone to reveal rounded limestone boulders called concretions.

“These formed from limey sediments that settled around decomposing animal remains on the ancient seabed, subsequently preserving them in spectacular three-dimensional detail.

“Paleontologists today hunt for these concretions to examine the fossil traces of long-dead sea creatures.

Images shows fossil-bearing rocks on Spitsbergen that produce the earliest ichthyosaur remains, undated photo. A team of Swedish and Norwegian palaeontologists has discovered remains of the earliest known ichthyosaur or ‘fish-lizard’ on the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen. (Benjamin Kear/Newsflash)

“During an expedition in 2014, a large number of concretions were collected from Flower’s valley and shipped back to the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo for future study.”

Confirming that the animal they discovered was already aquatic, Kear suggested that the first amphibious ichthyosaur predecessors must be even older.

Further analysis and more fossils will be needed to determine if these reptiles adapted in the seas before the ecological disaster struck.

The research was published in the prestigious international life sciences journal Current Biology on Monday, 13th March.


To find out more about the author, editor or agency that supplied this story – please click below.
Story By: Georgina JadikovskaSub-Editor: Marija Stojkoska, Agency:  Newsflash

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