Scientists have recently uncovered nearly full skeletons of ancient marine reptiles from a melting glacier in Southern Chile.
46 specimens were collected from four varied species of ichthyosaurs. Ichthyosaurs are creatures, which are also called "fish lizards" in Greek. These creatures were huge, fast swimming reptiles living in marine habitat and lived during the Mesozoic Era – a period 245 million years ago. Ichthyosaurs had torpedo-shaped bodies with elongated nose and teeth and vertical flippers.
The skeletal remains were that of both embryos and adults and were well-preserved in deep-sea sediments that were later hit by melting glaciers. Scientists assume that the reptile species died during a series of catastrophic mudslides.
"They look a lot like dolphins today," Live Science quoted Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, the lead in the study and a paleontologist at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
Earlier, the team of researchers uncovered specimens of Cretaceous close to Tyndall Glacier in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. As the glacier started melting, the rock with fossils started exposing, explained Stinnesbeck.
Until now, a very few ancient reptiles including fossil remains of vertebrae and rib cages have been found in South America.
The largest skeleton of ichthyosaur that has been recently discovered in Chile measures over 16 feet in length. Researchers have also recovered fossil embryos inside female specimen. The fossils were categorized under the family Ophthalmosauridae.
It is believed that these "fish lizards" hunted in an underwater canyon near the coastline and consumed small animals and fishes, the researchers added.
Occasionally, there would have been mudflows that fell into the water like a flood, and the researchers think these mudflows killed the ichthyosaurs. The animals are likely to have drowned and disoriented and eventually got trapped into the deep sea, where their bodies lay in the sediment, said the researchers.
These huge creatures, Ichthyosaurs, swam in the seas the same time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and when terosaurs ruled the skies, but they may have died much before some of the other land animals and birds even took birth, Stinnesbeck said. Researchers believe that global reduction of oxygen in the oceans, caused due to a volcanic eruption, may have been the reason of extinction of these marine reptiles.
The discovery of these animals shows that the Chilean glacier was one of the major sites for marine reptiles of Early Cretaceous, said the researchers. The team of researchers had to drive for five hours, climbed for 10 to 12 hours to reach the camp and again hike for another two hours, sometimes in snow, heavy rain or hail.
"This has been one of the toughest field camps I ever had," said Stinnesbeck.
The research has been published on 22 May in the journal Geological Society of America Bulletin.