Indian paleontologists have discovered a near-complete skeleton of an ichthyosaur near the village of Lodai in the Gujarat region. The skeleton is from the upper Jurassic, which means it likely lived between 161 and 145 million years ago. This is believed to be the first ichthyosaur discovered in India.
The fossil, as reported in PLOS One, has not yet been identified as a particular species. It belongs to the Ophthalmosauridae family, which lived between 165 and 90 million years ago in the sea along the fragmented Gondwana (or Gondwanaland) supercontinent.
"This is a remarkable discovery not only because it is the first Jurassic ichthyosaur record from India, but it also throws light on the evolution and diversity of ichthyosaurs in the Indo-Madagascan region of the former Gondwanaland and India's biological connectivity with other continents in the Jurassic," lead author Guntupalli Prasad said in a statement.
Madagascar, Africa, South America, Antarctica, and Australia are all modern parts of the former supercontinent, which began fragmenting at the beginning of the age of dinosaurs. This discovery will help researchers understand how these species moved around the ancient continent.
The specimen is nearly 5.5 meters (18 feet) long and was discovered among fossils of ammonites and belemnites, an extinct order of cephalopods that looked a bit like squids but with a hard internal skeleton. Based on the wear patterns on the teeth of the ichthyosaur, it may have been preying on these animals.
Ichthyosaurs are large marine reptiles that lived during the Mesozoic era. They are not “water dinosaurs”, although they were contemporary with the dinos. They were air-breathing and bore live young. Many paleontologists also believe they were warm-blooded creatures.