A large fossil discovered in Nevada may provide insights into aquatic evolution.

An 8-foot skull found in Augusta Mountains, Nevada is the longest known fossil from that time. This remarkable find could help us understand how whales evolved and preserve them in the oceans, according to researchers.

The fossil — a newly discovered species of ichthyosaur, a type of large aquatic reptile — dates to about 246 million years ago. According to researchers, the newly named cymbospondylus youthorum was the largest known animal from this time period both on land and in water. The cymbospondylus youngorum is currently the world’s first large animal. The well-preserved skull, shoulder, and forefin were all found during the excavation. At more than 55 feet long, the ichthyosaur was estimated to be the size of a large sperm whale, according to the study released Thursday by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County.

The ichthyosaur’s conical and long-nosed teeth led researchers to think it may have eaten squid or fish. The ichthyosaur could also have hunted younger species and smaller marine reptiles.

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The skull of the cymbospondylus youngorum.

Natalja E. Kent


Paleontologists believe the ichthyosaurs grew exponentially within several million years, and that their growth was due in part to a massive increase in its prey, which included ammonoids and eel-like conodonts. After the end of Permian Extinction, these species saw a surge in their numbers.

“This is one of the reasons this study stands apart, because it allowed us explore and gain additional insight into body sizes evolution within these groups marine tetrapods,” Dr. Jorge Velez Juarbe, associate curator at Natural History Museum Los Angeles County.

The cymbospondylus youthorum “is a testimony to the resilience and life in the seas after the most severe mass extinctions in Earth’s past history,” he said.

“Ichthyosaur History tells us that ocean giants cannot be guaranteed to marine ecosystems. This is a valuable lesson, which Lene Desett and Nicholas Pyenson (co-authors) wrote about the study . It is crucial that we preserve the existence of ocean giants who have survived to benefit our well-being. “

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