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Scientists discover monster marine reptile fossil with 'arsenal of teeth'

Kyhytysuka is a new species of ichthyosaur, and it had a hankering for large prey.

The fossil skull of Kyhytysuka sachicarum sports a sensational set of teeth.
Dirley Cortés

There's a new entry in the annals of marine animals with freaky teeth. An international team of researchers discovered a new species of ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that lived in the age of dinosaurs. The 130 million-year-old fossil skull is particularly notable for its spectacular chompers.

"Whereas other ichthyosaurs had small, equally sized teeth for feeding on small prey, this new species modified its tooth sizes and spacing to build an arsenal of teeth for dispatching large prey, like big fishes and other marine reptiles," Hans Larsson, director of the Redpath Museum, said in a McGill University statement on Monday.

The new species, which was found in central Colombia, is named Kyhytysuka sachicarum. Kyhytysuka comes from the indigenous Muisca language and translates to "the one that cuts with something sharp." The team published a study on the fossil this month in the Journal of Systemic Palaeontology

McGill released an animation showing what the ichthyosaur might have looked like swimming about with its teeth out. It's not the sort of thing you would want to run into if you were a prey animal. 

Kyhytysuka was alive during the Early Cretaceous after an extinction event at the end of the Jurassic period. "We are discovering many new species in the rocks this new ichthyosaur comes from," said lead author Dirley Cortes, a graduate student at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "We are testing the idea that this region and time in Colombia was an ancient biodiversity hotspot and are using the fossils to better understand the evolution of marine ecosystems during this transitional time."  

Skeleton of Kykytysuka compared with a human for scale. Known bones are in white.

Dirley Cortés

Cortes called Kyhytysuka a "monster ichthyosaur," a description that hits home when you see an illustration of the reptile compared with the size of a human. It would have been an intimidating predator in its time.