If you’re anything like us you’ll struggle to remember what you had for dinner last night, but now scientists have managed to unearth the last meal eaten by a creature that died a staggering 200 million years ago.
The team were studying the fossilised remains of the ’Ichthyosaurus Communis’ – one of the first species of a group of sea-going reptiles that lived in the late Triassic and early Jurassic period in Europe and Asia.
The find was remarkable, firstly because it was the only example of a newborn ichthyosaurus ever to be found by humans, and secondly because it had a stomach full of prehistoric squid.
The ‘Ichthyosaurus Communis’ lived in Belgium, England, Germany, Switzerland and Indonesia, and has been known to science for nearly 200 years, but this is the first time the team have uncovered such detail.
Paleontologist Dean Lomax, who worked on the study, said: “It is amazing to think we know what a creature that is nearly 200 million years old ate for its last meal.”
Measuring in at a total length of approximately 70cm (adult relatives normally grow up to 3.3 metres in length), the team at the University of Manchester, used a CT-scanner to create a 3D model of the animal.
Lomax said: “We then found many tiny hook-like structures preserved between the ribs. These are from the arms of prehistoric squid. So, we know this animal’s last meal before it died was squid.”
This also lead the team to conclude that younger examples of the species “fed exclusively on fish” and had a totally different prey-preference to their parents and other elders.
First discovered and recognised by science in 1821, with many uncovered by Victorian paleontologist, Mary Anning, along the coast at Lyme Regis, Dorset, the ichthyosaurus is one of the most common Early Jurassic fossil reptiles in the UK.
Despite this, there are few examples of complete or well-preserved fossils, making this find even more exceptional: “This specimen is practically complete and is exceptional. It is the first newborn Ichthyosaurus Communis to be found, which is surprising…”
It was initially believed that Ichthyosaurus laid eggs on land, but now fossil evidence shows that in fact the females gave birth to live young, and were born tail first to stop them from drowning in the water.
As such, they were well-adapted to life as fully pelagic organisms, that never came on to dry land.
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The ichthyosaur is now on display at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, University of Birmingham.
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