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Scientists just discovered a massive sea predator from the Triassic period

Updated Oct 25th, 2022 2:19PM EDT
Image: dottedyeti / Adobe

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According to a new study, scientists believe the largest animals to ever live, lived in the sea. In fact, a new discovery has led them to believe that one of the largest animals was a Triassic period predator that was somewhat similar to modern-day whales.

Based on the new discovery, researchers believe that a 244-million-year-old fossil would have rivaled current cetaceans. The animal in question, an ichthyosaur, existed 8 million years after the first ichthyosaurs, at the most. Because of its massive size compared to other ichthyosaurs, scientists believe its evolution was expedited in some way.

How this Triassic period predator grew so fast

The new study, which was published in Science on December 24 of last year, focuses heavily on the discovery of the fossil in Fossil Hill, Nevada. It also focuses on how the creature that left the fossil behind could have grown as large as it did. Based on the discovery, scientists believe that the ichthyosaur that they found had a two-meter-long skull. They also believe that it was a completely new species of Cymbospondylus.

Researchers say that this is the largest known tetrapod of the Triassic period, on land or in the sea. It’s also the first in a series of massive ocean giants that would go on to rule the sea. They also believe that the creature was able to grow to the size it did as quickly as it did by eating ammonoids. These small, yet abundant prey, would have helped the ichthyosaur grow exponentially faster. Because of the time period, scientists feel the end-Permian mass extinction helped provide such an abundant source of ammonoids.  

The discoveries they’ve found have also led scientists to believe that this Triassic period predator evolved much earlier than whales. Scientists currently consider whales to be the largest animals on Earth.

Diving deeper

comparison of whales and ichtyosauria evolutionsImage source: STEPHANIE ABRAMOWICZ / Science

There is still a lot that we don’t know about the evolution of marine animals. Scientists may be able to learn more from the discovery of this new ichthyosaur. Specifically, they may learn more about the evolutionary track that marine life followed. This particle Triassic period predator lived millions of years ago. However, its fossil could be a new door of understanding we haven’t previously been able to achieve. And, it might not be the only one out there.

In the study’s abstract and conclusions, the researchers noted that the environment of the time may have supported multiple creatures the same size. Additionally, the abundance of ammonoids could have helped fuel the exponential growth of the ichthyosaur shortly after its origins.

More fossil discoveries lately

While this is a truly fascinating discovery that can change marine life evolution studies, it isn’t the only fossil making waves lately (no pun intended). Back in November of 2021, there was a debunking of a myth that a four-legged snake fossil was found. It was concluded that, rather than a snake, it was a mosasauroid. This discovery didn’t answer many questions though. Scientists still are looking for the link between four-legged snakes and fossils. It’s out there, they believe. But they don’t know where.

There was another dinosaur fossil found in Chile not too long ago. It showed a dinosaur known as Stegouros elengassen that featured an extremely sharp tail that resembled a sword. Fossils found around the world are generally huge news and we had a load of them in 2021. 2022 should be no different.

More coverage: Nature’s most successful predator is smaller than you think.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.