Evidence Supporting Predation of 4-m Marine Reptile by Triassic Megapredator
A new fossil of a 5-m ichthyosaur contains remains of a 4-m thalattosaur
It likely represents the oldest record of megafaunal predation by a marine reptile
More Mesozoic marine reptiles than previously conceived likely fed on megafauna
Megafaunal predation simultaneously started in a few lineages of marine reptiles
Air-breathing marine predators have been essential components of the marine ecosystem since the Triassic. Many of them are considered the apex predators but without direct evidence—dietary inferences are usually based on circumstantial evidence, such as tooth shape.
Here we report a fossil that likely represents the oldest evidence for predation on megafauna, i.e., animals equal to or larger than humans, by marine tetrapods—a thalattosaur (∼4 m in total length) in the stomach of a Middle Triassic ichthyosaur (∼5 m). The predator has grasping teeth yet swallowed the body trunk of the prey in one to several pieces. There were many more Mesozoic marine reptiles with similar grasping teeth, so megafaunal predation was likely more widespread than presently conceived. Megafaunal predation probably started nearly simultaneously in multiple lineages of marine reptiles in the Illyrian (about 242–243 million years ago).