Jurassic sea beast ‘was actually warm blooded and looked like a dolphin’

Rob Waugh
Contributor

The ancient reptiles looked a lot like dolphins, and may have been warm-blooded and insulated by blubber.

A sea beast from the age of the dinosaurs was actually warm blooded and had insulating blubber – and looked like a dolphin.

Molecular and mircrostructural analysis of a Stenopterygius ichthyosaur from the Jurassic, 180 million years ago, found that the creatures had skin similar to whales.

Like whales and dolphins, they were coloured dark on top and lighter on the bottom, to protect themselves from predators, say researchers from North Carolina State University.

Professor Mary Schweitzer said, ‘Ichthyosaurs are interesting because they have many traits in common with dolphins, but are not at all closely related to those sea-dwelling mammals.

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‘We aren’t exactly sure of their biology either. They have many features in common with living marine reptiles like sea turtles, but we know from the fossil record that they gave live birth, which is associated with warm-bloodedness. This study reveals some of those biological mysteries.’

Co-author Johan Lindgren said, ‘Both the body outline and remnants of internal organs are clearly visible.

The ancient reptiles looked a lot like dolphins, and may have been warm-blooded and insulated by blubber.

‘Remarkably, the fossil is so well-preserved that it is possible to observe individual cellular layers within its skin.’

Researchers identified cell-like microstructures that held pigment organelles within the fossil’s skin, as well as traces of an internal organ thought to be the liver.

They also observed material chemically consistent with vertebrate blubber, which is only found in animals capable of maintaining body temperatures independent of ambient conditions.

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