‘Fish-lizard’ fossil from Kutch is a Jurassic first

The 5.5 metre ichthyosaur, believed to be at least 90 million years old, points to India’s evolutionary links

October 26, 2017 12:42 am | Updated 04:46 pm IST - NEW DELHI

  Ancient resident  The ichthyosaur fossil discovered in the arid region of Gujarat.

Ancient resident The ichthyosaur fossil discovered in the arid region of Gujarat.

A near-complete Jurassic-era fossil of an intriguing animal that looks like a mashup of a dolphin and lizard has been unearthed in Kutch, Gujarat.

Ichthyosaurs or ‘fish- lizards’ in Greek were large reptiles that lived at the same time as dinosaurs. While many ichthyosaur fossils have been found in North America and Europe, the fossil record in the Southern Hemisphere has mostly been limited to South America and Australia.

Guntupalli Prasad, a geologist at the University of Delhi, said when a fossil bone from the animal’s skeleton was first found by an Indo-German research team in Kutch in 2016, they suspected it to belong to a dinosaur. “But the bone was too long and later the whole skeleton was unearthed. It’s the first Jurassic ichthyosaur find in India,” he told The Hindu .

The 5.5 metre-long skeleton is thought to belong to the Ophthalmosauridae family, which lived likely between 165 and 90 million years ago, when the arid Kutch was a sea. The remains were found among fossils of ammonites and squid-like belemnites, and the way the creature’s teeth were worn out suggest it ate animals with thick, bony coverings, the team of scientists report in the October 25 edition of PLOS ONE .

Dr. Prasad, one of the authors of the report, notes: “This also throws light on the evolution and diversity of ichthyosaurs in the Indo-Madagascan region of the former Gondwanaland and India’s biological connectivity with other continents in the Jurassic.”

Sparse evidence

Earlier too researchers have discovered evidence of ichthyosaurs in prehistoric India. Remnants were reported from Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu in 2016 but these were only fossils of teeth and part of the vertebra. In Kutch, the team reported the finding of vertebral column, ribs, neural spines and a part of the snout.

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