Were Icthyosaur Eyes Bigger Than Their Bellies?

A sign depicting a drawing of an ichthyosaur skeleton posted at the fossil shelter of the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, Nevada. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Jim Brace-Thompson


Talk about indigestion! Whenever I pigged out at the dinner table, my Mom would warn me that my eyes were bigger than my belly, and she was usually right as she delivered her ever-ready bottle of pink Pepto-Bismol late at night. But it seemed some 240 million years ago; a dolphin-like marine reptile called an ichthyosaur decided not to listen to Mom.


Per a recent report in the journal iScience, paleontologists have discovered a marine reptile in China named Guizhouichthyosaurus.  This particular ichthyosaur measured nearly 16.5 feet long. 

Fossils of a prehistoric ichthyosaur (Wikimedia Commons)

What was surprising was the last meal contained within its belly cavity: a lizard-like reptile known as a thalattosaur measuring no less than over 13 feet in length, or almost the same size as the ichthyosaur that ate it! Scientists speculate that the oversized meal is what did in this particular Guizhouichthyosaurus. It appears to have suffered a broken neck, from either trashing side-to-side or sticking its head violently upwards to try to force down its oversized meal.


Previously, paleontologists believed ichthyosaurs ate mostly small prey, particularly the extinct cephalopods known as ammonites. In fact, fossil ammonite shells have been found with holes that perfectly match the ichthyosaur’s peg-like teeth. 


But scientists now know that at least one ichthyosaur decided to move it up a notch but had eyes bigger than its belly!


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