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A team in China led by researchers from the University of California, Davis have discovered the first fossil of an amphibious ichthyosaur. Ichthyosaurs were dolphin-like marine reptiles that thrived for around 150 million years during the Age of the Dinosaurs. The discovery dates to the Lower Triassic period and marks the creature’s transition from land back to the sea. As the first evidence linking the marine ichthyosaur to its terrestrial ancestors it fills a significant gap in the fossil record.
The discovery of the fossil, named Cartorhynchus lenticarpus, is described in a paper recently published in the journal Nature. The fossil is about 248 million years old and measures roughly 16 inches (40 cm) long. UC Davis professor Ryosuke Motani and his colleagues discovered the specimen in China’s central-eastern Anhui Province. Unlike the later ichthyosaurs that were fully adapted to living in the sea, the fossil has unusually large flippers with flexible wrists, which could have allowed it to move around on land like a seal.