Ichthyosaurs might have resembled Flipper, but they were actually reptiles.
Fish lizards. Sea dragons. Ichthyosaurs are known by some evocative names. They were marine reptiles that thrived back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. Paleontologists know a lot about fish lizards based on a rich fossil record that has more recently been expanded with the discovery of soft-tissue fossils. All the latest data has gone into a stunning sculptural reconstruction of an ichthyosaur.
A team of geologists from Lund University in Sweden published a study in Earth-Science Reviews this month. The paper reviews previous research on the fossils and looks at how the soft-tissue evidence of pigmentation, skin and muscles can be used to create an accurate representation of the extinct animal.
"This research history spans 300 years. It is worth noting that the term ichthyosaur was coined in 1814, i.e. almost 30 years before the term dinosaur," said lead author and paleontology professor Mats Eriksson in a Lund University statement on Thursday.
The researchers used 10 Tons, a sculpture company in Denmark, to build a "scientifically correct life-size reconstruction" of a fish lizard based on a specimen found in Germany. The sculpture took over a year to create and is now on view at Lund's Department of Geology. It bears a close resemblance to a modern dolphin, despite being a very different kind of animal.
Eriksson believes the sculpture will be a valuable resource for students and researchers studying the ancient fish lizards, saying, "Our reconstruction is the scientifically most modern, and hopefully correct, interpretation of what these animals looked like." That "hopefully" says a lot. There's always room for new data and updated reconstructions. This is the best we have for now, and it's quite a looker.