A baby ichthyosaur’s last meal revealed

ichthyosaur illustration

Baby ichthyosaurs like the one illustrated here may have noshed on squid, a new analysis of a museum fossil suggests.

Julian Kiely

As far as last meals go, squid isn’t a bad choice. Remains of a squidlike cephalopod appear to dominate the stomach contents of an almost 200-million-year-old ichthyosaur fossil.

Ichthyosaur bones commonly pop up on England’s fossil-rich coast near Lyme Regis. But a lot of museum specimens lack records, making their age difficult to place. Dean Lomax of the University of Manchester in England and colleagues reexamined one such fossil, the researchers report online October 3 in Historical Biology. Based on its skull, they identified the creature as a newborn Ichthyosaurus communis. Microfossils of shrimp and amoebas around the marine reptile put the specimen at 199 million to 196 million years old.

Hook structures stand out in the baby’s ribs — probably the remnants of arms from an ancient squid relative. Fish were the food of choice for the young of another type of ichthyosaur that lived more recently, previous research has suggested.

This roughly 2-foot-long baby ichthyosaur represents an exceptionally well-preserved Ichthyosaurus communis and the first newborn discovered from that species. Dean Lomax
Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson is the associate digital editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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