on top of the Swiss Alpsat about 2,800 meters of altitude and hidden among frozen rocksthe discovery of some fossil remains has revealed the history of some fascinating and enigmatic marine dinosaurs that inhabited these lands about 200 million years ago. As explained by the scientific team responsible for this discovery, in what we now know as a mountain and which was then part of a prehistoric ocean, traces of three giant ichthyosaurs; some primitive predators more than 20 meters in length and that they were probably one of the largest animals that have ever existed on the planet.
The history of these giants of the prehistoric seaspresented this week in the journal ‘Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology’, has been reconstructed from one tooth, seven vertebrae and ten rib fragments of three specimens of ichthyosaurs (probably, of the family Shastasauridae). The researchers responsible for their study argue that tboth the tooth and one of the vertebrae stand out as largest found to date so everything indicates that, even within the ichthyosaurs, the three animals found must have been especially large.
“The largest ichthyosaur tooth found so far had 20 millimeters in diameter and belonged to a 18 meter long ichthyosaur. The tooth we’ve found is now three times as big, about six centimeters“, explains the paleontologist Martin Sander, from the University of Bonn, in the presentation of this surprising finding. “The ichthyosaur vertebra that we have analyzed is also the largest ever found in Europe“, adds enthusiastically Heinz Furrer, from the University of Zurich, in relation to the discovery of these three fascinating specimens of marine dinosaurs.
The odyssey of these dinosaurs dates back to about 200 million years ago. By then, experts explain, these monstrous reptiles weighing up to 80 tons they sailed the great global ocean of Panthalassa and explored shallow seas like Tethys. Thus lived (and thus died) the three specimens that star in the discovery of the week. After his death, everything indicates that his remains were deposited on the seabedwere integrated into the rocky soil and became part of an extraordinary geological movement.
A few ago 95 million years, As scientists illustrate, the African and European plates began to converge and, millions of years later and after countless tectonic movements, they gave rise to the mountainous formation that we now know as the Alps. Hence, sea giants like the ichthyosaurs ended up buried on top of a mountain, almost 3,000 meters above sea level. This same phenomenon, the researchers explain, would also explain why fossils have reached our days “deformed” and “crushed”.
“We do not rule out finding more giant sea creatures hidden under the glaciers“, predicts Sander, one of the paleontologists who has led this discovery, after the discovery of these gigantic marine dinosaurs in the alpine mountains. As a complementary note to this study, it never hurts to remember that just a few years ago the melting of the glaciers in the Chilean Patagonia region brought to light a marine dinosaur graveyard with fossils of almost 50 specimens.
Three forgotten decades
The fossil remains that are the protagonists of this news, as is usual in this type of case, are not a recent find. In fact, according to the scientific team, the first vestiges of these prehistoric specimens were unearthed between 1976 and 1990 by a team led by Heinz Furrer himself more than three decades ago, when he was still a doctoral student. But as is also the custom in this type of discipline, after a first analysis, the remains they were once again buried between museums and shelves. “More giant ichthyosaur remains turned up recently, so it seemed to us that it was worth analyzing the Swiss findings in more detail”, explains the scientist.
“We know so little about these sea giants that they are still mere ghosts for us”, reflects Sander. In fact, according to experts, only a few fossils of these animals have been found (in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada, for example). “We only know the beginning and the end of these sea giants. We have to rise to this challenge and continue looking for new and better fossils”, adds the paleontologist. The most illustrative example, he explains, is the case of a scientific article published in 1878, where described an ichthyosaur vertebra of 45 centimeters in diameter that, subsequently disappeared.