A jaw full of 5-inch, knife-edged teeth let this newly unearthed ichthyosaur, called Thalattoarchon saurophagis, tear into prey its same size and larger, researchers say. The species swam in what is now Nevada some 244 million years ago.
Snagging a Snack
The giant ichthyosaur ruled the oceans some 244 million years ago. Here's what it may have looked like seizing a meaty snack.
This is what the jaws of Thalattoarchon saurophagis (whose name means "lizard-eating ruler of the sea") looked like when they were discovered by Field Museum preparator Jim Holstein on July 24, 1998. The photograph was taken seven years later in preparation for excavation.
The predator was a member of the ichthyosaurs, marine reptiles that evolved from land reptiles just as modern whales did from land mammals and which cruised the oceans for 160 million years, going extinct about 90 million years ago. Here, the back of the skull and neck during the excavation of the ichthyosaur skeleton in 2008. The bones are encased in a large nodule, the pieces of which were numbered for later reassembly.
A view down Favret Canyon with University of Bonn preparator Olaf Dülfer. The new ichthyosaur came from the beds in the background above the steep canyon walls.
Tooth crown of Thalattoarchon as seen in the field. The shape of the crown with its two cutting edges indicates that this ichthyosaur was a meat eater, using its tteth to seize and slice prey.
Paleontologist Nadia Fröbisch preparing a plaster jacket for the fossil of the new ichthyosaur in the field in Nevada.
This is the right side of the skull during preparation in the Field Museum labs showing the upturned eyeball and the huge teeth in front of it.