Visit Website | Image credit: Mark Hallett
An ancient, dolphin-like marine reptile resembles its distant relative in more than appearance, according to an international team of researchers. Molecular and microstructural analysis of a Stenopterygius ichthyosaur from the Jurassic (180 million years ago) reveals that these animals were most likely warm-blooded, had insulating blubber and used their coloration as camouflage from predators. Researchers identified cell-like microstructures that held pigment organelles within the fossil's skin, as well as traces of an internal organ thought to be the liver. They also observed material chemically consistent with vertebrate blubber, which is only found in animals capable of maintaining body temperatures independent of ambient conditions. Taken together, the researchers' findings indicate that the Stenopterygius had skin similar to that of a whale and coloration similar to many living marine animals -- dark on top and lighter on the bottom -- which would provide camouflage from predators, such as pterosaurs from above, or pliosaurs from below.