Scientists reconstructed prehistoric marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs

Geologists mapped 300 years of research.


The dolphin-like ichthyosaurs – also known as ‘fish lizards’ were extinct marine reptiles. They roamed the Mesozoic oceans for some 160 million years. These dolphin-like reptiles lived from the Early Triassic to the Late Cretaceous.

Geologists at Lund University in Sweden have mapped 300 years of research on the ancient fish lizard called Ichthyosaur. They have created an up-to-date reconstruction of an ichthyosaur using a well-preserved fossil.

They found that the diet of this dolphin-like reptile was turtles and octopuses. The fish lizards have left behind a rich fossil record, including bones and teeth.

In this study, geologists have analyzed existing fish lizard research.

Mats E. Eriksson, professor of paleontology at Lund University, said, “This research history spans 300 years. It is worth noting that the term ichthyosaur was coined in 1814, i.e., almost 30 years before the term dinosaur.”

ancient fish lizard
Collage: De la Beche/Figuier/Hawkins/Harder/De La Garza

Based on the world’s collective knowledge of these primordial animals and soft fossil parts, scientists enlisted the help of the Danish sculpture company 10 Tons to create a scientifically correct life-size reconstruction.

Johan Lindgren, geology researcher at Lund University, said, “Our reference point was a fish lizard that was found in Holzmaden, Germany. This fossil has previously been the subject of an extensive study on the biology and coloration of fish lizards, which I did together with Mats and several other colleagues and was published in Nature.”

The team used several techniques, such as clay sculpturing and 3D printing, for this work. The sculpture initiative, which could be carried out with support from the Crafoord Foundation, aims to reflect the current state of research. The sculpture is now on public display at the Department of Geology in Lund.

Mats E. Eriksson said“Our reconstruction is the scientifically most modern, and hopefully correct, interpretation of what these animals looked like. It will be valuable for students and researchers who want to learn more about the iconic fish lizard.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Mats E.Eriksson et al. A review of Ichthyosaur (Reptilia, Ichthyopterygia) soft tissues with implications for life reconstructions. DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2022.103965
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