Fossils: Huge swordfish-like creature swam the waters of what is now Colombia ...

Fossils: Huge swordfish-like creature swam the waters of what is now Colombia ...
Fossils: Huge swordfish-like creature swam the waters of what is now Colombia ...

A huge, swordfish-like creature with a veritable 'arsenal of teeth' swam the shallow waters of what is today Colombia some 130 million years ago, a study has found.

Researchers from McGill University reanalysed fossilised remains that were unearthed near Villa de Leyva in Colombia's Boyacá department back in the 1970s.

The specimen — which has a stunningly preserved, 3-feet-long skull — is an ichthyosaur, an order of marine reptiles that lived from 250–90 million years ago.

In 1997, experts assigned the fossil to the genus platypterygius, a grouping some have said is a 'wastebasket' taxon used to classify species that don't fit elsewhere.

Yet fresh study of the skull, which is held in the Colombian National Geological Museum in Bogotá, has revealed that it belongs to a new genus — 'Kyhytysuka'.

The revelation, the team said, is helping to refine our understanding of the ichthyosaur family tree and how its members evolved. 

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A huge, swordfish-like creature (depicted in an artist's impression) with a veritable 'arsenal of teeth' swam the water of what is today Colombia some 130 million years ago, a study has found

A huge, swordfish-like creature (depicted in an artist's impression) with a veritable 'arsenal of teeth' swam the water of what is today Colombia some 130 million years ago, a study has found

The specimen — which has a well--f marine reptiles from 250–90 million years ago.

The specimen — which has a well-preserved, 3-feet-long skull  (pictured, top, and illustrated, bottom) — is an ichthyosaur, an order of marine reptiles from 250–90 million years ago

KYHYTYSUKA STATS 

Full name: Kyhytysuka sachicarum

Age: around 130 million years ago

Locality: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Skull length: 3 feet (94 cm) 

Dentition: Varied teeth shapes

Ate: Both small and large prey 

Maximum mouth gape: 70° 

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The study of Kyhytysuka was undertaken by vertebrate palaeontologist Hans Larsson, of Canada's McGill University, and his colleagues.

'This animal evolved a unique dentition that allowed it to eat large prey,' Professor Larsson explained.

'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.'

For example, while Kyhytysuka's front-most teeth are long and slender, and optimised to grip smaller prey, the saw-toothed dentition further into the jaw seem to have evolved to shear the creature's victims.

Kyhytysuka's back set of teeth, meanwhile, are short and robust, hinting at their application for crushing prey — a conclusion supported by the reinforced connection between the brain-case and skull bone hints at an increased bite force.

Furthermore, the team's analysis has indicated that, while the marine reptile would have been unable to move its jaws much side-to-side, it could open its mouth to a colossal gape of 75°, which would have allowed it to swallow very large prey.

In 1997, experts assigned the fossil to the genus platypterygius, a grouping some have said is a 'wastebasket' taxon used to classify species that don't fit elsewhere. Yet fresh study of the skull, which is held in the Colombian National Geological Museum in Bogotá, has revealed that it belongs to a new genus — 'Kyhytysuka.' Pictured: artist's impressions of Kyhytysuka

In 1997, experts assigned the fossil to the genus platypterygius, a grouping some have said is a 'wastebasket' taxon used to classify species that don't fit elsewhere. Yet fresh study of the skull, which is held in the Colombian National Geological Museum in Bogotá, has revealed that it belongs to a new genus — 'Kyhytysuka.' Pictured: artist's impressions of Kyhytysuka

'This animal evolved a unique dentition that allowed it to eat large prey,' said paper author and vertebrate palaeontologist Hans Larsson of McGill University. He continued: '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.' Pictured: the groupings of Kyhytysuka's teeth

'This animal evolved a unique dentition that allowed it to eat large prey,' said paper author and vertebrate palaeontologist Hans Larsson of McGill University. He continued: '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.' Pictured: the groupings of Kyhytysuka's teeth

'We compared this animal to other Jurassic and Cretaceous ichthyosaurs and were able to define a new type,' said paper author and palaeontologist Erin Maxwell, formerly of McGill but now based at the State Natural History Museum of Stuttgart.

'This shakes up the evolutionary tree of ichthyosaurs and lets us test new ideas of how they evolved,' she added.

The fact that the specimen has relatively small

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