Geologist Accidentally Finds Dolphin-Like Reptile Fossil In South Texas

Posted: Jan 3 2017, 11:53am CST | by , Updated: Jan 3 2017, 11:56am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Geologist Finds Dolphin-Like Reptile Fossil in South Texas
Credit: Railroad Comission of Texas
 

The ancient reptile ruled the oceans 90 million years ago

In 2014, a petroleum geologist James Harcourt was working on remote South Texas riverbed with his colleagues when he spotted fossil bones – which later turned out to be parts of an ancient dolphin like reptile. The reptile was a marine animal that ruled the oceans around 90 million years ago, a time when dinosaurs were dominating the land.

The fossil bones were found in limestone on Eagle Ford Formation along the riverbed and were in a great condition. Eagle Ford is a geological formation that is considered one of the Texas’ most productive shale oil basins and has yieled many ancient fossils before.  

When the surface dirt was cleared away, the group of geologists realized that the fossil bones likely belonged to a gigantic creature. The bones are still buried inside the ground.

The almost complete fossil was measured 6 feet long and had the sleek body of dolphin and jaws with sharp teeth of dinosaurs. Though, the fossil was discovered more than two years ago but its importance was not realized until the photo of the fossil appeared on the cover of the Texas Railroad commission's 2016 annual report. Geologist Harcourt works for Texas Railroad commission – a state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.

“Very rarely do we get really complete skeletons out of the Eagle Ford,” said Josh Lively, a marine reptile fossils specialist at the University of Texas. “Whenever you have an associated skeleton like this, when you have multiple parts of the animal, it's a really an important find.”

The ancient animal appears to be an ichthyosaur – a group of large marine reptiles that resembled modern-day whales. It was probably one of the last species of ichthyosaurs that survived until Late Cretaceous period some 90 million years ago. 

Ichthyosaurs started to disappear from the seas between 88 and 96 million years ago. However, the cause their extinction remained unknown. Researchers suspect that it could be a much larger underwater reptile plesiosaur. But they cannot be sure until the bones are dug out from the ground.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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