How To Recycle an Ichthyosaur

by Brian Switek

Whales have very active afterlives. Once they settle on the ocean bottom, their bodies become both food and shelter for a host of different organisms – an oasis of bone and rotting flesh called a whalefall. But whales aren’t the only animals to have enriched the seafloor. During the Late Jurassic, over 90 million years before whales even existed, the bodies of aquatic reptiles called ichthyosaurs hosted a vibrant succession of marine life.

This week, Plymouth University paleontologist Silvia Danise and colleagues have described the ichthyosaur fall in Nature Communications. This isn’t the first time paleontologists have reported such a community. In 2008, Andrzej Kaim and coauthors described a pair of roughly 89 million year old plesiosaurs associated with snails that make their living in ephemeral undersea habitats. But the unfortunate ichthyosaur adds something new. The geologically older marine reptile underwent a slightly different trajectory during its breakdown…

(read more: Laelaps - National Geographic)

photo by Brian Switek