February 19 – Flipper!

Today’s factismal: The most recently identified ichthyosaur has been named after Mary Anning, who discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton in 1811.

Quick! What’s sleek and fast in the water, has a long, toothy grin, big flippers, and isn’t a fish? If you said “dolphin”, you’d be right today. But 200 million years ago the answer would have been “ichthyosaur”. That was when these now-extinct swimming reptiles dominated the oceans, noshing on everything from ammonites to turtles to fish to squid. And that last was the favorite meal of the most recently identified ichthyosaur, based on an absolutely amazing fossil in Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery.

A different ichthyosaur (My camera)

A different ichthyosaur
(My camera)

This new/old critter was identified just this year even though the original fossil was found nearly 30 years ago. The delay was partly because there were so many fossils found at the time that it was hard to catalog them properly and partly because it was originally thought to be a plaster copy and not a real fossil. But when the paleontologists got a good look at it, they went ape (or reptile in this case). The stomach contents were clearly visible (a bunch of squid beaks) as were the bones and teeth. Based on careful measurements of the fossil which was compared with more than 1,000 other ichthyosaurs, it was identified as a new species. And, because it was found near where the first ichthyosaur fossil was discovered, this one was named for the person who found the original: Mary Anning. So this one is called ichthyosaurus anningae or “Anning’s swimming lizard”.

The last thing this ammonite saw was an ichthyosaur's mouth (My camera)

The last thing this ammonite saw was an ichthyosaur’s mouth
(My camera)

If you’re a teacher and would like your class to do a bit of fossil hunting, then why not join PaleoQuest? They are looking for folks like you to help them discover shark fossils from the Atlantic coastal plain. Just register with them and they’ll send you a matrix of material. You dig through it and then send them back all of the shark bits you find. The results will be displayed in the Calvert Marine Museum. And if your fossil gets used in a publication, then you’ll actually be named in the paper! For more info, swim over to:
http://paleoquest.org/10.html

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