A new species of prehistoric sea monster unearthed in Nevada chowed down on prey its own size—the first ocean predator that evolved to do so, a new study says. (Explore a sea monster interactive in National Geographic magazine.)
Thalattoarchon saurophagis—which translates to “lizard-eating sovereign of the sea”—was at least 28 feet (8.6 meters) long and lived about 244 million years ago during the Triassic period, said study co-author Nadia Fröbisch of Berlin’s Museum of Natural History.
The bus-size beast was an early ichthyosaur, part of a group of reptiles that prowled the world’s seas during the dinosaur era.
The Thalattoarchon fossil, partially excavated in 1998, was unusually well preserved, including the skull, fins, and entire vertebral column. “It is pretty amazing, particularly for an animal this size,” said Fröbisch, who is also a National Geographic explorer. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)
But more compelling to Fröbisch were reports of the animal’s fearsome teeth, briefly spotted on the last day of the 1998 expedition.
So, in 2010, Fröbisch and colleagues returned to the Nevada site to dig up the rest of the fossil. In the process, the scientists discovered an enormous skull and jaw-laden with large, sharp teeth that are big enough to carve up other large marine reptiles, she said. (Related: “Sea Monster Battle Seen in Prehistoric Bite Marks.”)
Thalattoarchon‘s modern counterparts would be orcas and great white sharks, both of which will take on similar-size prey. (Related blog post: “Sharp-Toothed Thalattoarchon Was the First Ruler of the Triassic Seas.”)