Ichthyosaur: Ancient Jurassic 'Fish Lizard' Fossil Discovered in India for the First Time

Articulated skeleton of Ophthalmosaurid ichthyosaur at the excavation site in Ka-chchh District in Gujarat state, western India. Guntupalli V.R. Prasad

An almost-complete fossil skeleton thought to belong to an Ichthyosaur, an ancient marine predator not dissimilar to a modern-day porpoise, from the Jurassic period has been discovered in India for the first time, researchers say.

The name Ichthyosaur, which literally means "fish lizard," is used to refer to any of a group of aquatic animals that lived throughout the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods—collectively referred to as the Mesozoic Era and known as the time of the dinosaurs—from 250 million years ago to 66 million years ago.

The new skeleton is thought to belong to the Ophthalmosauridae family, according to a statement promoting the research on Phys.org, is nearly complete, and measures about 18 feet.

According to the researchers, whose work is published in the journal PLoS One, while ichthyosaur fossils have mostly been discovered in South America and Australia, as well as elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, North America and Europe, this is the first Jurassic ichthyosaur found in India. It was discovered in Kachchh, part of Gujarat.

The authors have not been able to pinpoint the creature's precise species, but the family lived between around 165 and 90 million years ago.

The researchers believe that if they can fully identify the animal, there are valuable lessons to be learned about "possible ophthalmosaurid dispersal between India and South America."

This specimen was also unearthed among the remains of smaller sea creatures, ammonites and belemnites. "Its tooth wear patterns suggest it predated such hard, abrasive animals," according to the statement.

Guntupalli Prasad, the study's lead author, said: "This is a remarkable discovery not only because it is the first Jurassic ichthyosaur record from India, but also it throws light on the evolution and diversity of ichthyosaurs in the Indo-Madagascan region of the former Gondwanaland and India's biological connectivity with other continents in the Jurassic."