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About 200 million years ago, in what is now Warwickshire, a dolphin-like reptile died and sank to the bottom of the sea.
The burial of the creature preserved its skull in stunning detail – allowing scientists to digitally reconstruct it. The fossil, revealed in PeerJ magazine, gives a unique insight into the life of an ichthyosaur.
The ferocious creature would have fed on fish, squid, and probably other types. Their bones have been found in a farmer’s field for over 60 years, but their meaning has only recently come to the fore.
Remarkably, the skull has been preserved three-dimensional and contains bones that are rarely exposed. “It took more than half a century for this ichthyosaur to be studied and described, but it was worth the wait, ” said paleontologist Dean Lomax of the University of Manchester.
Thanks to data collected from computed tomography scanners, researchers Nigel Larkin and Laura Porro were able to digitally reconstruct the entire skull in 3D.
“Computerized tomography allows us to look inside fossils – in this case we can see long canals inside the skull bones that originally contained blood vessels and nerves,” Porro said.
Ichthyosaurus was originally identified as a common species, but after studying it in more detail, scientists have identified it as a rare ichthyosaur called Protoichthyosaurus prostaxalis .
“We were also able to digitally edit the original skull, that is, move bones around and manipulate them,” said Dean Lomax.
There have been previous studies of large skulls of marine reptiles that have been reconstructed but are incomplete. Ichthyosaurs were extinct some 90 million years ago. They were known as “sea dragons” and occupied the oceans for 160 million years, while dinosaurs occupied the land.
Source: Zap Aeiou