June 20, 2013
Another Piece In The Evolution Of Sea Monsters
Last month, the National Geographic website reported about a paleontology research group that released a study announcing the discovery of “Malawania anachronus, which was a ten-foot (three-meter) long ichthyosaur, a group of dolphin-like creatures that could grow to 65 feet (20 meters) in length.” The Malawania anachronus differed from its relatives in that the scientists figured that it lived in the Cretaceous period, whereas the ichthyosaur lived during the Jurassic period.
Malawania anachronus has provided a bit of a controversy, though. As National Geographic explains, “…it lacks the skull, a crucial element for determining ichthyosaur species.” Additionally, the samples used to date the creature did not come from the original site but instead from a rock slab. “The microfossil data on M. anachronus is unspecific, giving a range of roughly six million years.” Plus, the beast kept the same body shape through the millennia as its chest and forefins look like its Jurassic forefathers.
In response to one of these criticisms, National Geographic writes, “Though the skull is important in identifying ichthyosaur species, several parts of the M. anachronus skeleton have ‘unique’ and ‘peculiar’ features that indicate it’s a new species, noted study author Fischer.” Plus, paleontology is about using the bits and pieces to understand the past.
So, just how did the research team study the fossil? Well, the slab came from the Kurdistan area of Iraq back in the 1950s and was sent to the UK for studying. It was not until “Fischer and his team, who extracted microscopic spores and pollen from inside the slab of rock and dated them to the early Cretaceous, according to the study, published May 15 in the journal Biology Letters…The team also took another look at the ichthyosaur family tree (adding the newest member to their analysis) and discovered that numerous ichthyosaur groups that appeared during the Triassic and Jurassic periods probably survived into the Cretaceous.”
Through the long years of study came quite an interesting specimen. Not only could it possibly rewrite the evolutionary history of sea reptile monsters, but it also has brought some questions to the paleontology world. Namely, how come paleontologists have not found evidence of M. anachronus before? Another question is, why did its body not change significantly for so long? After all, marine reptiles tend to evolve quickly in reaction to the changes in the ocean.
Obviously, more research is necessary on M. anachronus in order to find the answers to these questions. That is, after all, what paleontologists do. They search for answers to the past through bits and pieces of fossils and other natural remnants.
It would be such a cool job to be a scientist who digs and studies the Earth and the changes throughout time. I bet the moment of discovery, like with M. anachronus, is one that absolutely thrills those involved with the study. I know that when I learn of such discoveries I am absolutely thrilled. I can’t wait to learn more about the M. anachronus and the future discoveries of paleontology.