Paleontologists working in the state of Gujarat in Western India have discovered the fossils of an ichthyosaur. Ichthyosaurs were large marine reptiles of the order Ichthyosauria. They appeared around 250 million years ago (in the early Triassic), and flourished for 160 million years, before going extinct around 90 million years ago (in the late Cretaceous). Though they were large and reptilian, they were not related to dinosaurs, as most people are prone to think. The Ichthyosauria are not members of the Archosauromorpha (which include the likes of crocodiles, dinosaurs and their descendants, the birds). They evolved to live in the oceans unlike the dinosaurs and had a dolphin-like appearance. Ichthyosaurs gave birth to live young instead of laying eggs and preyed on marine fish and mollusks.

The specimen found in Gujarat is approximately 18 feet or 5.5 m long, a member of the family Ophthalmosauridae. It was recovered from the Upper Jurassic Katrol Formation near the village of Lodai in the state’s Kachchh District. Alongside the ichthyosaur were fossils of ammonites and belemnites, two types of shelled mollusks (extinct relatives of squids and octopuses) that ichthyosaurs hunted. This is the first time that such a remarkably complete Jurassic era fossil of an ichthyosaur has been found in South Asia. Paleontologists believe that the remains will throw light on the evolution of Ichthyosauria in the Indo-Madagascan region (made up by present day South Asia and Madagascar, that were once part of the great southern continent of Gondwanaland).

Here is an excerpt from Sci News, describing the significance of the discovery:

While many ichthyosaur fossils have been found in North American and Europe, in the Southern Hemisphere, their fossil record has mostly been limited to South America and Australia. Now, Dr. Guntupalli Prasad from the University of Delhi and co-authors report what they believe to be the first Jurassic ichthyosaur found in India. “This is a remarkable discovery not only because it is the first Jurassic ichthyosaur record from India, but also it 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,” Dr. Prasad said.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is an illustration of an ichthyosaur species (Ophthalmosaurus yasikovi) by the Russian artist Dmitry Bogdanov, who specializes in portraying extinct creatures. Also featured are the ammonites which were a prey item for the marine reptiles.