‘Missing link’ found for ancient sea reptiles
WASHINGTON — Ichthyosaurs were a hugely successful group of marine reptiles that flourished in the world’s oceans for more than 150 million years, with many looking much like today’s dolphins and some getting even bigger than a sperm whale.
But the extensive ichthyosaur fossil record had not included any of the earliest forms representing the transition from their land reptile ancestors to creatures fully adapted to life in the sea. Until now.
Scientists said on Wednesday they have unearthed in China the fossil of a small ichthyosaur with large, flexible flippers that let it move around on land like a seal while spending most of its time in the water 248 million years ago.
They called it the long-sought missing link revealing the early evolution of ichthyosaurs.
“We finally got this milestone and this first ichthyosaur,” said paleontologist Da-yong Jiang of Peking University in Beijing, who co-led the study published in the journal Nature.
The creature, named Cartorhynchus lenticarpus, was 16 inches long and had a snout .
The fossil, excavated in 2011 in China’s Anhui Province, is quite well preserved.
“Cartorhynchus represents a stage of the land-to-sea transition that was somehow lacking in the fossil record of the ichthyosaur lineage, while known in most other marine reptile and mammal lineages,” said University of California, Davis paleontologist Ryosuke Motani, the other study co-leader.