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Martin Sander/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

NV - Colossal marine skull reveals Earth's earliest giant animal

Scientists have discovered fossils of a new species of aquatic reptile that may represent the first giant animal that ever lived on Earth. Named Cymbospondylus youngorum, the creature is a new type of ichthyosaur dating back to the early stages of the Age of Dinosaurs, and grew to huge proportions extremely quickly.

Scientists have discovered fossils of a new species of aquatic reptile that may represent the first giant animal that ever lived on Earth. Named Cymbospondylus youngorum, the creature is a new type of ichthyosaur dating back to the early stages of the Age of Dinosaurs, and grew to huge proportions extremely quickly.

The discovery made in the Augusta Mountains of Nevada included a well-preserved skull measuring 2 m (6.6 ft) long, as well as part of the backbone, shoulder and forelimb. They were attributed to a previously unknown species of ichthyosaur, which lived about 246 million years ago.

Ichthyosaurs were an incredibly successful family of marine reptiles that dominated the oceans for about 150 million years, lasting almost the entire reign of the dinosaurs. The archetypes looked like dolphins, with elongated snouts, flippers, the occasional dorsal fin, and average sizes of 2 to 4 m (6.6 to 13.1 ft) long. But some ichthyosaurs were giants of the sea, routinely stretching over 20 m (65.6 ft) long.

The new species is one of these giants. At an estimated 17 m (55.8 ft) long, C. youngorum wasn’t the biggest ichthyosaur ever – that honor currently belongs to a later species that may have been up to 26 m (85 ft) long – but it was the biggest of its time. In fact, by the time it arose in the Middle Triassic, it may have been the largest animal Earth had ever seen up until that point.

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