A rare specimen of ichthyosaur has just been identified in a private collection, 22 years after its discovery. The marine reptile evolved with dinosaurs about 200 million years ago.
The ichthyosaurs were reptiles that lived in the time of the dinosaurs, evolving alongside them. They were vertebrates that looked like the current dolphins – like them, they had to come and breathe the atmospheric air on the surface of the water. Their fossils are particularly abundant in the United Kingdom. This is only the second example of the species Wahlisaurus massarae available, discovered in 2016 by the paleontologist of the University of Manchester, Dean Lomax.
The researcher examined a skeleton two years ago in the collections of the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester. He then spotted several unusual features, ultimately determining that it was unique and represented a new species, which he named Wahlisaurus massarae.
For this new study, Lomax has teamed up with Mark Evans, paleontologist and curator at the New Walk Museum in Leicester, and fossil collector Simon Carpenter. The study here focused on a specimen identified in the collection of the latter. Relatively complete, the fossil consists of a partial skeleton comprising a skull, pectoral bones, limbs, pelvic bones, ribs and vertebrae. It dates from an unusual time, on the border between the Triassic and the Jurassic, just before – or after – the extinction of the Jurassic about 200 million years ago. Nearly 20% of marine species and a large proportion of large terrestrial vertebrates had disappeared. For these reasons, the team was unable to determine if the ichthyosaur was one of the many victims of this pivotal time.
The discovery of this new specimen in a private collection once again reveals the importance of the contribution of fossil collectors in palaeontological research. You will find all the details of this study in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.