In 1998, Field Museum Paleontologist Jim Holstein literally stumbled upon a remarkable discovery: the fossil remains of an approximately 35-foot long marine dinosaur reptile, a monster of the sea called Thalattoarchon Saurophagus. The name, from the Greek, means “lizard-eating ruler of the seas,” and scientists believe this species lived at the top of its food chain in the oceans. It very probably preyed on animals near its own size, as do modern day killer whales.
This prehistoric sea monster is believed to have existed for 160 million years before dying out 244 million years ago. 5-inch long razor sharp teeth made it top predator in the ocean. Thalattoarchon existed 8 million years after a near total extinction event on the Earth. This find illustrates the amazing resiliency of ocean ecosystems following such an event.
“The new find characterizes the establishment of a new and more advanced level of ecosystem structure,” said team scientist Jorg Frobisch. “Findings like Thalattoarchon help us to understand the dynamics of our evolving planet and ultimately the impact humans have on today’s environment.” The team’s insights will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The fossil remains were discovered in the Augusta Mountains of Nevada, originally in 1998, but were not excavated until 2008. Scientists at the Field Museum are still separating bone from rock.
Holstein was taking a walk along the mountain ridge where T. Saurophagus was buried; but it was only because he was so tired from the grueling work day that he happened to be looking down and noticed the fossil’s skull.