A marine reptile in Columbia dating back about 130 million years that looked like a swordfish has been identified as a new species. The well preserved skull that measured a meter in length (3.3 feet) was found by an international team of researchers from Canada, Germany, and Columbia.
The newly identified species, which has been named Kyhytysuka sachicarum, was a type of ichthyosaur. Ichthyosaurs lived between 251 and 65.5 million years ago. They measured approximately 10 feet in length (3 meters). It had a very skinny and pointed snout that looked very similar to swordfish with a lot of sharp teeth. It had four flippers with the two front ones being the largest. It was more than likely a fast swimmer that feasted on squid, fish, and numerous other sea creatures. It could breathe in air but wouldn’t have been able to survive on land.
The difference between Kyhytysuka sachicarum and other ichthyosaurs is that it could feed on larger prey as explained by Hans Larsson who is the director of the Redpath Museum at McGill University, “Whereas other ichthyosaurs had small, equally sized teeth for feeding on small prey, this new species modified its tooth sizes and spacing to build an arsenal of teeth for dispatching large prey, like big fishes and other marine reptiles.” In fact, its name translates to “the one that cuts with something sharp” in an Indigenous language from the area.
This new ichthyosaur species is very important in learning more about its evolution many millions of years ago as described by Erin Maxwell from the State Natural History Museum of Stuttgart, “We compared this animal to other Jurassic and Cretaceous ichthyosaurs and were able to define a new type of ichthyosaurs,” adding, “This shakes up the evolutionary tree of ichthyosaurs and lets us test new ideas of how they evolved.”
Kyhytysuka sachicarum was alive during the Early Cretaceous period when our planet was starting to warm up, the water levels were rising, and Pangaea was breaking apart. Then at the end of the Jurassic period, many species went extinct that altered the land and water ecosystems as explained by Dirley Cortés who is a graduate student under the supervision of Hans Larsson and Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, “Many classic Jurassic marine ecosystems of deep-water feeding ichthyosaurs, short-necked plesiosaurs, and marine-adapted crocodiles were succeeded by new lineages of long-necked plesiosaurs, sea turtles, large marine lizards called mosasaurs, and now this monster ichthyosaur.”
She went on to say, “We are discovering many new species in the rocks this new ichthyosaur comes from. We are testing the idea that this region and time in Colombia was an ancient biodiversity hotspot and are using the fossils to better understand the evolution of marine ecosystems during this transitional time.”
Their study was published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.
Pictures of what Kyhytysuka sachicarum would have looked like can be seen here.