Scientists have found a remarkably well-preserved fossil of an ichthyosaur, a marine animal that lived 180 million years ago. How well-preserved is it? The specimen still has its skin and blubber intact!
The ichthyosaur was an aquatic animal that resembled a porpoise with large teeth. But while porpoises are mammals, ichthyosaurs were reptiles.
The specimen was discovered in a Southwest German quarry, where many other Jurassic-era fossils have been found. An international team of researchers studied the fossil using equipment that included an Agilent Cary FTIR microscope, an Agilent HPLC and a Varian GC/MS.
“Both the body outline and remnants of internal organs are clearly visible,” said researcher Johan Lindgren. “Remarkably, the fossil is so well-preserved that it is possible to observe individual cellular layers within its skin.”
The skin is still flexible and shows evidence of the animal’s camouflage pattern. Even more remarkable, the specimen contains fossilized blubber, the thick layer of fat found under the skin of modern marine mammals. This indicates that the ichthyosaur was a rare warm-blooded reptile.
“This is the first direct, chemical evidence for warm-bloodedness in an ichthyosaur,” said researcher Mary Schweitzer, “because blubber is a feature of warm-blooded animals.”
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