Fossils of largest-ever marine reptiles found in Swiss Alps

Much about the ichthyosaur, the whale-like massive marine reptile, remains a mystery because very few fossil remains have been found.

Kite skiing in the Swiss Alps 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kite skiing in the Swiss Alps 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Fossils from some of the largest creatures ever to swim Earth’s oceans - whale-sized marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs - have been found in an unexpected place: atop three mountains in the Swiss Alps up to 8,990 feet (2,740 meters) above sea level.

According to a new study, published in Taylor and Francis, the fossils, which date as far back as 205 million years ago  (the early Triassic period), come from three different ichthyosaurs, the largest-ever marine reptiles. 

Researchers described the rib and vertebrae fossils from two ichthyosaur individuals: one about 69 feet (21 meters) long and the other about 49 feet (15 meters). They also told of a third individual based on the largest-known tooth from an ichthyosaur with a base 2.4 inches (6 cm) wide and an estimated length of 6 inches (15 cm), indicative of a daunting predator.

A humpback whale is seen breaching the water. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)A humpback whale is seen breaching the water. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The discovered fossils were initially recovered by University of Zurich students between 1976 and 1990. The lead author of the recent study, Dr. Martin Sander, noted that these prehistoric creatures have left very few fossil remains, which still remains a mystery. 

“It amounts to a major embarrassment for paleontology that we know so little about these giant ichthyosaurs despite the extraordinary size of their fossils,” Sander said. “We hope to rise to this challenge and find new and better fossils soon.”