Giant marine reptile fossils found 2,800 metres above sea levelLeigh Mc Gowranon April 29, 2022 at 14:11 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic

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Fossils of some of the largest marine reptiles to swim earth’s ancient oceans have been found around 2,800 metres above sea level, on three mountains in the Swiss Alps.

According to the study, the fossils come from three different animals called ichthyosaurs that lived about 205m years ago. The first of these creatures existed around 250m years ago during the early Triassic period.

The researchers said that before these creatures went extinct around 200m years ago, they had evolved into gigantic forms that rival today’s sperm whales, reaching estimated lengths of 20 metres and weights of 80 tonnes.

The discovered fossils were first recovered Dr Heinz Furrer of the University of Zurich with students between 1976 and 1990 during geological mapping in the Kössen Formation.

The researchers believe that the rock layers with these fossils would have covered the seafloor 200m years ago. But the folding of the Alps caused the rocks to reach a much higher altitude over a massive time period.

Dr Martin Sander with a rib of the larger ichthyosaur skeleton. The estimated length of the animal is 20 meters. Image: Laurent Garbay/University of Bonn

“Maybe there are more rests of the giant sea creatures hidden beneath the glaciers,” lead author of the study Dr Martin Sander said.

The largest ichthyosaur tooth discovered

The findings include rib and vertebrae fossils from two ichthyosaurs, which suggests these two individuals were roughly 20 and 15 metres in size respectively.

The other “particularly exciting” fossil that was discovered was a tooth, which Sander said is “huge by ichthyosaur standards”.

“Its root was 60mm in diameter – the largest specimen still in a complete skull to date was 20mm and came from an ichthyosaur that was nearly 18 meters long,” Sander said.

The root of the ichthyosaur tooth fossil, with a diametre of 60mm. Image: Rosi Roth/University of Zurich

The size of the tooth raises the possibility that it could come from the longest ichthyosaur discovered to date.

However, the team explains that it is unlikely the reptiles could have grown much larger than 20 metres, as research suggests that extreme gigantism is not compatible with a predatory lifestyle. It is possible the specific ichthyosaur simply had much larger teeth than average.

The study was conducted by the Institute of Geosciences and the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Bonn, along with the Paleontological Institute and Museum of the University of Zurich.

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