In a first, scientists have discovered a near-complete fossilised skeleton of a ‘fish lizard’ belonging to the Jurassic era. The ichthyosaur, a large marine reptile that lived alongside the dinosaurs, has been found from the Kachchh area in Gujarat, India by researchers including those from the University of Delhi and University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany.
Ichthyosaurs means ‘fish lizards’ in Greek. They have previously been discovered in North America and Europe. In the Southern Hemisphere, however, they have mostly been limited to South America and Australia.
The skeleton of what is believed to be the first Jurassic ichthyosaur in India is nearly 5.5 meter long. Thought to be from the Ophthalmosauridae family, the fish lizard lived between around 165 and 90 million years ago.
The fossilised skeleton of the ichthyosaur was found along with the fossils of ammonites and squid-like belemnites. The tooth wear patterns of the ichthyosaur indicates that it predated such hard, abrasive animals.
"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," said Guntupalli Prasad, from the Department of Geology in University of Delhi.
The study has not yet been able to pinpoint the ichthyosaur's species. However, researchers believe that a full identification could inform on possible ophthalmosaurid dispersal between India and South America.
They hope that unearthing more Jurassic vertebrates in this region could provide further insights into the evolution of marine reptiles in this part of the globe.
The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.
(With inputs from PTI)