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How a Selfie Stick and Fishing Rod Attached an Ancient Skeleton to Throw the First Light at 145 Million Years Old Reptile

Nannopterygius Fish Lizard Reconstruction

This is an artistic life reconstruction of Nannopterygius. Credit: Andrey-Atuchin

The skeleton of an extinct “fish lizard” that was locked in a glass enclosure over 16 feet from the ground for the last 100 years has finally been studied, thanks to a selfie stick on a fishing rod.

145 million years Nannopterygius is an ichthyosaur species that swam our planet for about 76 million years. It is on display in the Natural History Museum, London, but its glass cabinets are hung too high for easy examination.

Russian paleontologist Nikolay Zverkov was desperate to see the London example because he thought some of the Russian ictosaurs might be similar.

It turns out he was right and that this particular species of swimming prehistoric reptile was common on its day, the Jurassic period.

To photograph and assess the skeleton, Nikolay connected a digital camera on a selfie stick to a fishing rod and connected it to a PC via a very long USB cable. He passed the pictures on to University of Portsmouth paleontologist Megan Jacobs who worked at Ichthyosaurs for her master’s degree.

Nikolay Zverkov Marine Reptile Gallery

Nikolay Zverkov captures the ichthyosaur in the Marine Reptile Gallery of the Natural History Museum, London UK. Credit: Nikolay Zverkov

Megan and Nikolay have now published an article on the results of the survey Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Megan said: “Nicolay got excellent detailed photographs that significantly expanded our knowledge of Nannoptergyius enthekiodon.

“I realized that fossil expert Dr. Steve Etches had also discovered examples of this Nannoptergyius close to where the original example was found and he had also discovered other examples in the UK.

“Being able to finally study this enigmatic animal has shown that it was actually very common and widespread in late Jurassic that occurred not only in England, but also in European Russia and the Arctic.”

Thanks to the new study, several samples of Nannopterygius have been found in museum collections across the UK – in Oxford, Cambridge and in the Etches Collection in Kimmeridge, Dorset, as well as in Russia and Norway, which shows that this animal is much more common than previously thought, making it one of the most widespread of something similar swimming reptile.

University of Portsmouth Professor of Palaeobiology, Dave Martill, a world-leading expert who oversaw Megan’s research, said: “We previously only had detailed knowledge of a type of ichthyosaur called Ophthalmosaurus, which was known from hundreds of specimens, including well-preserved skeletons from the Middle Jurassic Oxford Clay Formation of England.

“The excellent information available to Ophthalmosaurus in contrast to the poor record of other intermediate and late Jurassic ichthyosaurs, so as to be able to access Nannopterygius – a previously inaccessible specimen – has given us a fascinating new insight into a particular ichthyosaur species that we knew very little about. “

Nikolay added: “For decades, the scientific community believed Nannopterygius was England’s rarest and most famous ichthyosaur. Finally, we can say that we know almost all the skeletal details of these small ichthyosaurs, and that these animals were widespread. The answer was very close – we just needed a fishing rod. “

Reference: “Revision of Nannopterygius (Ichthyosauria: Ophthalmosauridae): reconsideration of the” inaccessible “holotype resolves a taxonomic whine and reveals an unclear ophthalmosaurid lineage with a wide distribution” by Nikolay G Zverkov and Megan L Jacobs, May 15, 2020,Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
DOI: 10.1093 / zoolinnean / zlaa028

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