An ichthyosaur, which was a massive marine creature that is similar to modern dolphins, died after consuming a creature that had an almost equal size. A thalattosaur was found in its belly, with the prey being undigested.
The discovery was made by a team of paleontologists in southwest China in 2010, with the team being surprised that the stomach content was intact, a rare feat in the case of marine fossils. New research has concluded that instead of preferring smaller, more accessible prey, the ichthyosaur was a megapredator.
Hunting large prey
According to the researchers who conducted the study, the five-meter long (or 16-foot) predator died while the prey was being ingested. A neck breakage seems to be the likely cause of death, as it would have left the ichthyosaur without the ability to breathe. It is theorized that wounds may have been sustained during the battle with the thalattosaur, or while the ichthyosaur tried to swallow it.
Measuring four meters (or almost 13 feet), the thalattosaur was killed by the bigger creature, as there are no signs that may suggest the possibility of natural death.
The tail of the thalattosaur was found at a distance of 20 meters from where the ichthyosaur died, suggesting that the latter ripped the tail off and decided to leave it behind. Since there were no signs of advanced digestion, it is thought that the ichthyosaur died soon after the final meal was consumed.
Ichthyosaurs have blunt teeth, a trait that prompted researchers to argue that they may have preferred small prey, but it seems that this wasn’t the case. Events like this took after the conclusion of the Permian period, which saw the return of many land vertebrates into the sea after a major extinction event took place. The rise of new predators during the Middle Triassic marked a return to a better state.