A team of researchers from the University of Manchester discovered an ancient jaw bone that belonged to one of the biggest animals that had ever existed. After some additional research, they managed to identify this animal as well. The bone had belonged to an ichthyosaur, a marine creature that resembled a whale.
The ancient jaw bone belonged to an ichthyosaur
In 2016, researchers stumbled upon the jaw bone on the Somerset coast. The studies revealed it was 205 million years old but, at first, they couldn’t tell which animal it came from. Therefore, they started looking for more clues in their attempt to solve the mystery. After a more thorough research of the area, they found other bone fragments as well.
This way, they could tell the ancient jaw bone belonged to an ichthyosaur. This creature is a marine animal that is now extinct, but which bore many similarities to today’s whales. It was one of the biggest creatures that had ever populated Earth, so the discovery was pretty remarkable.
At a first glance, the ancient jaw bone looks just like a rock. However, researchers knew it must be a fossil coming from a long extinct animal. They suspected the creature was probably an ichthyosaur, but it was hard to tell. A bone cannot help researchers find out how big the ancient animal was, so they found another solution.
They compared the fossil to the largest ichthyosaur known to date
They took the ancient jaw bone for analysis at the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology found in Alberta, Canada. Here lies the biggest species of ichthyosaur ever found, namely Shonisaurus sikanniensis. This creature was about 69 feet long. To identify what specimen the ancient jaw bone belonged to, they compared the fossil with the museum exhibit.
This way, they found their ichthyosaur was pretty similar to Shonisaurus sikanniensis, but not identical. Our creature was bigger than the exhibit by at least 25 percent, making it about the size of a blue whale. This creature is the biggest animal ever known, so the newly found ichthyosaur might have owned this title long before.
The study on the fossil was published in the journal PLOS One.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons