Scientists already knew that Ichthyosaurs were a gnarly group of predators. The ancient reptiles, whose name means “fish lizards,” could reach 85 feet long. They were literal sea monsters that topped the marine food chain who used specialized teeth for the grasping — not cutting — and devouring of soft animals like cephalopods and fish.
It turns out these oceanic hunters still haven’t received the credit they deserve. In a new discovery, researchers unveiled surprising contents inside the stomach of a Guizhouichthyosaurus specimen — findings that give Ichthyosaurs further clout when it comes to their hunting skills.
In the study, scientists report finding the skeleton of a 13-foot-long lizard, a thalattosaur, inside the stomach of a Guizhouichthyosaurus. It’s likely the “oldest evidence for predation on megafauna,” which refers to prey larger than a human. The study appeared Thursday in the journal iScience.
The fossils came from a quarry in southwestern China. They demonstrate an impressive feat: The ichthyosaur carrying about its 13-foot-long prey was only about 16 feet long itself.
The discovery also provides evidence that Ichthyosaurs — and perhaps other creatures with similar dental makeup — could take on prey much larger than a cephalopod.
Ryosuke Motani, a professor at the University of California Davis, led the study. He tells Inverse food remains in fossilized stomachs are usually fragmentary, typically just a few bones “that are damaged and etched by stomach acid.”
“We had never found something this complete in the stomach of a giant reptile before,” Motani says.