Monsters in the desert

A team of researchers found that “a new species of prehistoric sea monster” in the Nevada desert was the first ocean predator to “chow down on prey its own size,” National Geographic reported last week. The monster, whose scientific name is Thalattoarchon saurophagis (say that 10 times fast), was found to live more than 200 million years ago during the Triassic period, when Nevada was completely immersed in the ocean. Also referred to as the T. saurophagis, the creature is classified as an ichthyosaur, which is the official Nevada state fossil (and the namesake for the popular Great Basin Brewing Company’s beer, Icky).

The skull of the T. saurophagis was discovered in 1998, and the rest was excavated in 2010. Currently, it’s housed in Chicago’s Field Museum. National Geographic referred to the it as a “bus-sized beast”—the T. saurophagis is 28 feet long. Nadia B. Frobisch, one of the five scientists who unearthed it, says that the T. saurophagis species returned shortly after the Permian extinction, which “wiped out up to 95 percent of all the species in the ocean,” she says. This particular fossil lived 8 million years after the mass extinction.

“This ichthyosaur had a massive skull and large labiolingually flattened teeth with two cutting edges indicative of a macropredatory feeding style,” the official report states, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America (PNAS). “Its presence documents the rapid evolution of modern marine ecosystems in the Triassic.”