HomeScienceMeet Fiona: 139 million year-old pregnant ichthyosaur fossil found in Chile

Meet Fiona: 139 million year-old pregnant ichthyosaur fossil found in Chile

The pregnant remains of a fossilized ichthyosaur have been found in the Patagonian mountain region of Chile. This marks the first time a complete ichthyosaur has been found in the country.

And according to Judith Pardo-Pérez, a researcher at the GAIA Antarctic Research Center at the University of Magallanes (UMAG), the pregnant fossil “is the only pregnant ichthyosaur that’s been found on the planet from the era between 129 and 139 million years ago… So it’s incredibly important.”

This dolphin-like creature dubbed ‘Fiona’ was retrieved from a dig near the Tyndall Glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.

Pardo-Pérez first discovered the fossil in 2009, however, due to logistics it has taken 13 years for it to be excavated. The remote mountain range is a 10 hour hike to reach, making getting there challenging. Excavating the fossil itself was a huge task. According to Reuters, paleontologists extracted “five blocks” weighing about 440 pounds to keep her bones together.

Meet Fiona: 139 million year-old pregnant ichthyosaur fossil found in Chile

In order to preserve the fossil, it was sprayed with a preservative coating which turned it green. This is where the moniker Fiona came from, named after the vivid green ogre from Shrek.

What is an ichthyosaur?

The ichthyosaur was a marine reptile that first appeared 250 million years ago, and became extinct 90 million years ago. The name ichthyosaur actually translates to ‘fish lizard’, whilst they closely resembled a modern-day dolphin. Like modern marine mammals, the ichthyosaur gave birth to live young, and were air-breathing. They varied in size, with the smallest of the species only 1 foot long, and the largest growing up to 70 ft in size.

Unlike anywhere else in the world

In her heyday Fiona was 13ft (4 meters) long, and was pregnant with multiple embryos. And this ichthyosaur was not the only one to be found- almost 100 of the prehistoric reptiles were discovered in this mass graveyard. Dean Lomax, a paleontologist from the University of Manchester working on the study commented on how unique this discovery is:

The fact that these incredible ichthyosaurs are so well preserved in an extreme environment, revealed by a retreating glacier, is unlike anywhere else in the world,”

Twenty-three fossils, including Fiona, have been removed by helicopter from their resting place in the Patagonian ranges. The rest will remain where they are due to the cost of moving them.

Meet Fiona: 139 million year-old pregnant ichthyosaur fossil found in Chile

Paleontologists believe that the finding will help them understand much more about the ancient reptile. Erin Maxwell, an ichthyosaur specialist from Stuttgart, told Live Science:

“We can tell, for instance, how many embryos those species might have had, and how large they were at birth.”

Pardo- Perez seconded what Maxwell said:

“At four meters long, complete, and with embryos in gestation, the excavation will help to provide information on its species, on the palaeobiology of embryonic development, and on a disease that affected it during its lifetime.”

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