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In a first, a near-complete fossilised skeleton of a Jurassic ichthyosaur - large marine reptile which lived alongside dinosaurs - has been discovered in India, scientists said.
Fossil records of ichthyosaurs, which means 'fish lizards' in Greek, have been found in North American and Europe previously. However, in the Southern Hemisphere, they have mostly been limited to South America and Australia.
Researchers including those from the University of Delhi and University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany have found what they believe to be the first Jurassic ichthyosaur in India, from the Kachchh area in Gujarat.
The near-complete skeleton, nearly 5.5 meters long, is thought to belong to the Ophthalmosauridae family, which likely lived between around 165 and 90 million years ago.
It was found among fossils of ammonites and squid-like belemnites, and its tooth wear patterns suggest it predated such hard, abrasive animals.
"This is a remarkable discovery not only because it is the first Jurassic ichthyosaur record from India, but also it throws light on the evolution and diversity of ichthyosaurs in the Indo-Madagascan region of the former Gondwanaland and India's biological connectivity with other continents in the Jurassic," said Guntupalli Prasad, from the Department of Geology in University of Delhi.
While the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, has not yet been able to pinpoint the ichthyosaur's species, researchers believe that a full identification could inform on possible ophthalmosaurid dispersal between India and South America.
They hope that unearthing more Jurassic vertebrates in this region could provide further insights into the evolution of marine reptiles in this part of the globe.