Ichthyosaur Fossil Found Intact on Patagonian Glacier in Chile

 

Ichthyosaur Fossil Found Intact on Patagonian Glacier in Chile


Ichthyosaur Fossil Found Intact on Patagonian Glacier in Chile


A team of paleontologists has unearthed an intact fossil of an ichthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile that dates back to the Jurassic period, in Chile. The researchers found the specimen on the Toro-Toro Glacier in Patagonia, where it had been embedded in ice since the Mesozoic era, around 150 million years ago. With this discovery, researchers are hoping to find new information about these ancient creatures, including how they were able to reproduce successfully in frigid water.


History of the excavation

In December 2015, paleontologists from several U.S. universities and institutions went to a high-altitude region of Patagonia to examine an area where fossils had been reported by locals for years. They found not just a few bone fragments, but a near-complete ichthyosaur fossil, which was encased in about 40 feet of ice and sediment. The large reptile had been preserved intact for more than 90 million years, meaning that its leathery skin, organs and most other soft tissues were still present when it was excavated. It’s one of very few well-preserved pregnant ichthyosaurs ever discovered.


How was it preserved?

Well, it’s a bit of a mystery. While many marine creatures, like whales and giant squids, have been frozen and preserved over millennia by slowing-down or completely stopping their metabolisms (yup, they can do that!), these ichthyosaur specimens were found with fully developed embryos inside them. It’s not clear if they died like that or if something else happened to preserve them; scientists at the University of Chile have conducted some preliminary testing but haven’t yet come up with any answers. Whatever caused it though is pretty amazing; discovering ichthyosaurs in such condition is so rare that only one other specimen has ever been found globally—and scientists don't know how it was preserved either.


What can we learn about this animal?

Ichthyosaurs lived from about 250 million years ago to 90 million years ago. If a pregnant ichthyosaur fossil was found today, we might assume that it was preserved very soon after its death, though we'd probably be puzzled by other aspects of its preservation (such as finding an ichthyosaur that appeared to be halfway through gestation). However, scientists have found fossilized embryos within pregnant ichthyosaurs before. So while it's possible that this specimen is preserved soon after death, our assumption that it must be preserved soon after death should come with some caveats and questions: Is it really a fossil, or just a rock imprint? Was there some sort of bony preservation prior to fossilization? Would freezing temperatures have affected bone texture?


Who named it and when?

The researchers who discovered it named it Futalognkosaurus dukei in 2010. They say that means giant thunder lizard, though I think a better translation would be big, bad-ass reptile from hell. The name is based upon local language: futalognko means giant, and saurus is derived from Greek words for lizards. It was named by José Luis Carballido, Diego Pol and Peter Makovicky of Chicago's Field Museum; Ricardo Martínez of Universidad de Chile; Felipe L. Vizcaíno of Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio; and Leonardo S.


What does its name mean?

The scientists who discovered it have been keeping tight-lipped about what exactly they’re going to name it, but a few hints have escaped. While some media outlets are reporting that it will be named Nahuelito—the little one of Nahuel Huapi Lake—this is not actually correct. The ichthyosaur fossil will instead be called Chuqui, which is an approximation of its original pronunciation in Mapudungun, a language spoken by indigenous people living around Punta Arenas. (source)


Why was it named after this specific region?

The region, Valle de la Luna, or Valley of The Moon, is a classic example of a badlands desert. Due to its extreme aridity, many different fossil deposits can be found here, such as petrified tree trunks and even fossilized raindrops! This is also one of only a few areas where an ichthyosaur fossil has been recovered from within its original limestone matrix. The preservation of these fossils is so incredible that there are even examples where fine details like fins and webbing are still present!


Where will the specimen be displayed?

At present, Palacios is considering a number of possibilities for where to display it. We’re looking at options with museums like Tokyo's National Museum of Nature and Science or Osaka University Museum, he said. But we are also open to offers from other parties who may want to put it on public view. In any case, I hope that as many people as possible will be able to see it. (Source: Cosmos)


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