Scientists Find Fossil Head of First Monster on Earth

 A new study reveals a giant prehistoric sea monster found in one of the driest places on Earth, showing how quickly species evolved in terms of size.

An international team of scientists found the fossil head of a giant creature believed to be the first monster on Earth. This creature is thought to have lived 244 million years ago, when vast oceans covered the United States.

Based on the size of its skull, the animal was at least 18 meters long from snout to tail and weighed more than 40 tons, rivaling the largest whales today. The species, named Cymbospondylus youngorum, belongs to a group of aquatic dinosaurs known as Ichthyosaurus.

"Ichthyosaurs belonged to an unknown group of land reptiles and breathed their own air," said lead author Dr. Martin Sander, a paleontologist at the University of Bonn and Research Associate with the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum (NHM) Los Angeles, quoted from Study Finds, Friday (12/31/2021).

"From the discoveries of the first skeletons in southern England and Germany more than 250 years ago, these 'saurus-fish' were among the first large reptile fossils known to science, long before the dinosaurs."

The findings in the journal Science also suggest marine food webs during the Triassic period could have supported such a large creature. Finally, climate change wiped out this species about 90 million years ago, ending their reign in the oceans during the Age of Dinosaurs.

"As researchers, we often talk about the similarities between ichthyosaurs and cetaceans, but seldom dive into the details. That's one way how this study stands out, as it allows us to explore and gain some additional insight into the evolution of body size within this group of marine tetrapods." Associate Curator of Mammalogy from NHM, Dr Jorge Velez-Juarbe.

"Another interesting aspect is that Cymbospondylus youngorum and other F Fossil Hill Fauna are evidence of the survival of life in the oceans after the worst mass extinction in Earth's history. Arguably this was the first large splash of tetrapods in the oceans," he added.

Dr. Lene Delsett and Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, notes that the discovery provides lessons for today's environment.

"This is a valuable lesson for all of us in the Anthropocene, especially if we are to maintain the existence of living sea giants among us that contribute to our own well-being," he said.

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