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Ichthyosaurs in the Mountains

Ichthyosaurs in the Mountains

Above: An artist's depiction of a a group of Ichthyosaurs.

Thousands of feet above sea level in the heights of the Swiss Alps mountain range, paleontologists have found a curious ancient creature: the aquatic predator Ichthyosaur. The findings of these prehistoric reptiles in the Alps indicate that Ichthyosaur species once swam in the western part of the Tethys, a massive ocean that once covered the surface where the mountain range is today.

Ichthyosaurs were a group of marine reptile species that lived during the Mesozoic and were contemporary with dinosaurs. These creatures came in a variety of sizes, with some as small as 3 feet and others over 60 feet. They were air breathing hunters and their main prey were soft cephalopods. Their shapes were not unlike modern dolphins and they likely sped through the waters as a swift predator.

The ichthyosaurs discovered in the Alps came from the Kössen formation. These specimens were especially interesting as they contained the largest estimated tooth ever recovered from an ichthyosaur species, estimated to be between five and six inches long. Also discovered were vertebrae fossils which are comparable to other supermassive species found in the past, which means these giant sized creatures persisted well into the late Triassic period. Here's the full article detailing the find.

You may wonder how these ancient sea creatures were found on the mountainside, but this is actually due to geologic processes. Millions of years ago, the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided underneath the Tethys sea. This collision cause the slow but continual rising of the Alps mountain range, and sediments that were at the bottom of the ocean eventually became the peaks of mountains. This means that ichthyosaurs which fell to the bottom of the Tethys to become fossilized eventually wound up at the top of the Alps!

Want to learn more about ichthyosaurs? Check out the ichthyosaur fossil vertebra specimen!

A Fossil Ichthyosaur Vertebra
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