The Field Museum recently announced the launch of Science Newsflash, an initiative to present scientific research to the public as quickly as possible. With help from Museum scientists, selected discoveries will now immediately be put on display in Stanley Field Hall.
As a part of this groundbreaking initiative, a 244-million-year-old fossil named Thalattoarchon saurophagis (lizard-eating sovereign of the sea) – is now on exhibit for visitors to see. This new type of ichthyosaur was discovered in Nevada by a team of Field Museum scientists in 1998, including Jim Holstein and Olivier Rieppel, and then recovered in 2008. It had a massive skull and jaws armed with large teeth used to seize and slice through other marine reptiles similar to its own size, causing it to be compared to today’s orca whales.
This new fossil, nicknamed “Jim” after its discoverer, is crucial in providing insight into the rise of modern marine ecosystem structures. Only eight million years prior to the appearance of Thalattoarchon, a severe extinction killed as many as 80 to 96 percent of species in the Earth’s oceans. The discovery of this fossil documents the fast recovery and evolution of a modern ecosystem structure.