the first giant on earth

It had a skull two meters long. Only his head was taller than a human’s. Ichthyosaurus was the first giant creature to populate the Earth

The two-meter skull of a newly discovered giant ichthyosaur species, the oldest known, is shedding new light on the rapid growth of marine reptiles into ocean giants and helping to better understand the journey of modern cetaceans (whales and dolphins ) to become the biggest animals to ever inhabit the Earth.

While dinosaurs ruled the land, ichthyosaurs and other aquatic reptiles (which were not dinosaurs) ruled the waves, reaching gigantic sizes and species diversity. Its fins and hydrodynamic body shapes are seen in both fish and whales. These giants plowed the ancient oceans for most of the Age of Dinosaurs.

This skull was found in Fossil Hill Member, in the Augusta Mountains of Nevada, along with part of the spinal column. They date back to the Middle Triassic (247.2-237 million years ago) and represent the first case of an ichthyosaur to reach epic proportions.

As big as a sperm whale over 17 meters (55.78 feet) long, the newly named Cymbospondylus youngorum It is the largest animal discovered so far at this time, whether on land or at sea.

C. youngorum It chased the oceans about 246 million years ago, or just about three million years after the first ichthyosaurs wet their fins, a surprisingly short time to get this big.

The elongated muzzle and tapered teeth suggest that C. youngorum if It fed on squid and fish, but its size meant it could also have hunted smaller, juvenile marine reptiles. In a fossil found in China, they found that a giant lizard had been swallowed.

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Between ichthyosaurs and whales

A reenactment of the life of C. Youngorum lurking in the Nevadan oceans of the Upper Triassic, 246 million years ago. Illustration by Stephanie Abramowicz. Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (NHM)

Whales and ichthyosaurs share more than one size range. They have similar body plans and both first emerged after mass extinctions. These similarities make them scientifically valuable for comparative study. The authors combined computer modeling and traditional paleontology to study how these marine animals independently achieved record sizes.

They found that while both cetaceans and ichthyosaurs evolved with very large body sizes, their respective evolutionary trajectories toward gigantism were different. Ichthyosaurs had an initial boom in size, becoming giants early in their evolutionary history, while whales took much longer to reach the outer limits of the huge. They found a connection between large size and hunting birds of prey (think of a sperm whale diving to hunt giant squid) and a connection between large size and tooth loss; Think of the filter-feeding giant whales, which are the largest animals that ever lived. live on Earth.

The initial foray of ichthyosaurs into gigantism was likely due to the increase in ammonites and jawless eel-shaped conodonts that filled the ecological void that followed the late Permian mass extinction. Although their evolutionary paths differed, both whales and ichthyosaurs relied on exploiting niches in the food chain to make it really big.

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