Fossil range: Middle Triassic
Cymbospondylus, an ichthyosaur from the Middle Triassic of Nevada.
| Scientific classification
Cymbospondylus was a basal early ichthyosaur that lived in the middle of the Triassic period (240-210 Ma). It was one of the largest ichthyosaurs, and fossils range from 6 m (18 ft) up to 10 m (30 ft) long. It was one of the least fish-like of the ichthyosaurs, lacking a dorsal fin and fluked tail. It did, however, have an elongated snout like other ichthyosaurs.
Fossils have been found in both Germany and Nevada, and the first species was named by Joseph Leidy in 1868. It was not until the early 1900s that the first complete skeletons were discovered. Fossil vertebrae from Cymbospondylus were allegedly used as plates by Nevada's silver miners; it is now the state's official fossil.
Despite its size, Cymbospondylus was not much of a threat to other marine reptiles, such as Nothosaurus. Its large jaws contained rows of teeth which were so small that they could not have grasped and held on to large animals, let alone kill them. Instead, the teeth were better designed for catching and holding on to small and medium-sized fish, ammonites and belemnites. The long tail would have been excellent for swimming, and allowed Cymbospondylus to move at fast speeds and efficiently hunt down shoals of swimming fish.
Adult Cymbospondylus probably spent much of their time hunting in deep offshore water, only venturing into shallower water to breed or to catch seasonally available prey. Like other ichthyosaurs, Cymbospondylus probably gave birth to live young. These, on reaching adult size, probably had few, if any, predators that could harm them.
Previously, it was classified as a shastasaurid, however, more recent work finds it to be more basal (Motani, 1999).
The eel-like tail of Cymbospondylus made up almost half the total body length, and it is possible that the tail was used as a primary swimming mechanism. Like present day sea snakes, Cymbospondylus probably swam by wriggling its body from side to side. The paddle-like limbs Cymbospondylus had were serving use primarily as underwater stabilizers and slowing down the ichthyosaur's swimming speed.
Cymbospondylus fossils have been found in both Germany and Nevada, and the first species was named by Joseph Leidy in 1868. It was not until the early 1900s that the first complete skeletons were discovered. Fossil vertebrae from Cymbospondylus were allegedly used as plates by Nevada's silver miners; it is now the state's official fossil.
In popular cultureEdit
- Haines, Tim and Paul Chambers. 2006: The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life. Pg. 65. Richmond Hill, Firefly Books Ltd.
- Motani, R. 1999: Phylogeny of the Ichthyopterygia. Journal Of Vertebrate Paleontology. 19 (3): 473 - 496