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In what could serve as the lineage between dinosaurs and ichthyosaurs, scientists have uncovered a fossil record which is about 248 million years old in China that suggests a link between the two animals.
The discovery, named as Cartorhynchus lenticarpus, was made by the researchers at the University of California in 2011.
According to the scientists, the newly identified specimen serves as the missing link between the dolphin-like, aquatic-based ichthyosaur and its ancestors living on land.
Previously, there was no evidence of fossils to ascertain their transition from land to sea, until this latest discovery.
Talking about the new strong evidence, Ryosuke Motani, professor of planetary sciences at the University of California, said, “Now we have this fossil showing the transition. Unlike later ichthyosaurs completely adapted to a life at sea, it possessed unusually large and flexible flippers, like a modern-day seal, with flexible wrists that would have allowed it to crawl on the ground. There’s nothing that prevents it from coming onto land.”
Motani and his colleagues made the ancient discovery in China’s Anhui Province. According to the researchers, the fossil specimen is distinguished from its aquatic successors by the larger and more flexible flippers, similar to the one that allow seals to move about sand beaches and rock.
Later ichthyosaurs also possessed lengthy beak-like snouts, but the newly discovered amphibious fossil features a short nose, alike other terrestrial reptiles.
“By all means, this specimen is indeed very distinct from any ichthyosaur I have seen,” said paleontologist Valentin Fischer, from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences who has not participated in the study.
The study was published in the journal Nature.