Ancient sea creature took to land and sea

Primitive ichthyosaur relative had strong bones, big flippers

skeleton of a marine reptile

AMPHIBIOUS ANCESTOR  The skeleton of a marine reptile newly unearthed in China stretched about as long as a computer keyboard. 

Ryosuke Motani

The hefty fossil skeleton of a big-flippered sea creature may bridge the gap between landlubbing and water-dwelling reptiles of the Triassic period.

The creature, a primitive relative of the dolphinlike reptile Ichthyosaurus, may have paddled flexible flippers over sand and used its heavy-duty bones to stand up to waves crashing on seashores. Paleobiologist Ryosuke Motani of the University of California, Davis and colleagues describe the find November 5 in Nature.

Scientists had guessed that ichthyosaurs’ ancestors were land animals that eventually made their way to the sea, but the fossil record is sketchy. The new skeleton belonged to a reptile that’s the earliest to show signs of living both on land and in water, Motani says. Named Cartorhynchus lenticarpus, the reptilelived about 248 million years ago on what may have been hot and humid tropical islands in today’s China.

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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