Scientists have restored the appearance of ancient reptiles

(ORDO NEWS) — A careful review of research over the past 300 years and an exceptionally preserved fossil have given us what paleontologists call the “most modern reconstruction” of an ancient animal.

Living alongside dinosaurs during the Mesozoic era, ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that swam and hunted in the Earth‘s oceans.

The dolphin-like adorable animals flourished for about 160 million years before they died out, leaving behind a rich fossil record.

However, in recent times, paleontologists have also been lucky to find not only bones, but also preserved soft tissues, which provides a much larger amount of information that can be used when trying to figure out what ichthyosaurs actually looked like.

This information, in turn, can help us understand the lifestyle, habits and characteristics of extinct reptiles.

What ancient marine predators looked like

Led by paleontologist  Mats Eriksson at Lund University in Sweden, a team of scientists collected and analyzed previous studies of ichthyosaurs to draw cumulative conclusions.

Of particular interest to researchers was a fossil found in the Posidonia Shale, the Lagerstatten fossil complex in Germany.

This is an almost complete specimen of an animal skeleton straight from the Jurassic period, and therefore other researchers have used it to understand what ichthyosaurs looked like and how they lived.

“Our starting point was a fish lizard found in Holzmaden, Germany,” explained paleontologist Johan Lindgren from Lund University.”

This fossil was previously the subject of an extensive study of the biology and coloration of these creatures, which was published in the journal Nature.”

Armed with a wealth of fossils, as well as previous research, the team hired artist Esben Horn to create a life-size reconstruction of an ichthyosaur of the species Stenopterygius quadriscissus found in the Posidonia Shale:

Scientists have restored the appearance of ancient reptiles 2Fossilized bones and soft tissues of ichthyosaurs found in Germany

Modern reconstruction

The process took about a year and included clay sculpture and 3D printing. As a result, the animal acquired smooth skin, like modern leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea). Previous research has concluded that, like other marine reptiles, this species lost its scales during its evolutionary transition to the ocean.

The ichthyosaur is sculpted as if its innards were protected by a layer of fat, evidence of which has been found in the fossil of the German Stenopterygius; this thick layer of fat would have helped protect the ichthyosaur from freezing temperatures in the same way that it protects modern marine life.

Ichthyosaur fossils have also shown the presence of melanosomes, cell organelles containing a dark pigment that would provide UV protection. The tiny teeth are a direct replica of real-life fossil lizard teeth.

The result, according to the researchers, is a brilliant meeting of science and art, as well as the most modern depiction of an ichthyosaur.

Although it is possible that more information will appear in the future, the team does not think that the appearance of this creature will change radically – only small details and details will be clarified.


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