Cray-Sea Creatures

What’s big, scaly, and eats more than your Dad at a discount buffet?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying…

Ichthyosaurs! These ancient REPTILES swam in oceans but breathed air… Imagine something like a scaly dolphin, but the size of a whale! 

In fact, P. Martin Sander and colleagues from University of Bonn found a GIANT ichthyosaur fossil — almost as long as a semi truck! Early ichthyosaurs, about seven feet long, lived only three million years earlier. It took whales around fifty million years to achieve the same size increase.

So HOW did ichthyosaurs get so big, so fast?

A creature as large as a whale requires a TON of food. Whales grew massive by specializing in specific diets, like filter feeding. The researchers think the ichthyosaurs became top hunters early on and were less picky! With fewer animals eating the same thing, they had a shorter line to the SEAfood buffet!

These two animals took the same evolutionary path to GIANTS … but over two hundred million years apart! 

Whatever’s on the menu — they knew how to have a WHALE of a time!

Reference: Sander, P. M., Griebeler, E. M., Klein, N., Juarbe, J. V., Wintrich, T., Revell, L. J., & Schmitz, L. (2021). Early giant reveals faster evolution of large body size in ichthyosaurs than in cetaceans. Science, 374(6575).