Extinct sea whale with odd teeth discovered in Colombia

Part of the skull of an ichthyosaur, an extinct marine reptile that looks like a swordfish, was unearthed at Loma Pedro Luis, Villa de Leyva, in Boyacá, Colombia in the 1970s, according to a published study. published in the magazine Journal of Systemic Paleontology. At the time, however, the specimen was incorrectly labeled as another species, Platypterygius sachicarum.

Dirley Cortés, a doctoral candidate at the Redpath Museum at McGill University in Montreal, reanalyzed the fossil and discovered that it had been misclassified. The meter-long skull is dated between 130 million and 115 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, according to Cortés. This time frame follows the global extinction event at the end of the Jurassic period, she said.

Cortés said Colombia was an “ancient biodiversity hotspot”, so fossils like this newly identified marine reptile serve as puzzle pieces to understand the evolution of ecosystems. sea ​​thai.

Cortés said other ichthyosaurs have small, equal-sized teeth, perfect for eating small prey. In contrast, the teeth on the skull specimen “modified its tooth size and spacing to build a dentition” to capture larger prey, she said.

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The teeth would make it easier for the giant predator to catch, puncture, saw and crush large prey, she explained. Some of its meals may have included other marine reptiles and large fish, Cortés added.

The carnivorous creature had a long snout and was about 4 to 5 meters (13.1 to 16.4 feet) long, she said. The animals can open their jaws about 70 to 75 degrees, Cortés said, making it easier for them to eat larger animals.

The species is called Kyhytysuka sachicarum, which means “thing cut with something sharp from Bookica” in the ancient Muisca language indigenous to Colombia. Bookica is a town near Villa de Leyva where a partial skull was found.

Understanding marine ecosystems in transition

The study holds a special place in Cortés’ heart because the specimen was found where she grew up, she said.

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“My doctoral research has direct implications for the development of paleontology in Colombia and Neotropics, a field that is still emerging from the history of the developed world, so it is rewarding to be recognized doing research here,” Cortés said by email.

Following the discovery, Cortés said she is turning her attention to analyzing fossils at the Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas in Villa de Leyva, Colombia.

“We are discovering many new species that help us understand the evolution of marine ecosystems during the transition period,” Cortés said.

After the global extinction event, the Earth is going through a cool period with rising sea levels, she said. The supercontinent Pangea is also splitting into northern and southern lands, she added.


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