German marine reptile find rewrites fossil record

Ichthyosaurs - artist's impression
Image caption The Ichthyosaur find raises new questions about the reptile's history

German experts have found a new species of prehistoric marine giant from a time when most of that family of reptiles were thought to have died out.

The rare ichthyosaur find from the Braunschweig area, northern Germany, is 130 million years old, dating from the Lower Cretaceous era.

Most ichthyosaur fossils date from the Jurassic era, millions of years before.

The Braunschweig fossil revelations were reported in the science journal Plos One on Tuesday.

The new type of ichthyosaur, discovered during roadworks in 2005, has been called Acamptonectes densus - "Stiff Swimmer".

The neck vertebrae were so tightly packed that "it couldn't move its neck, so it must have shot through the water like a dart", said palaeontologist Ulrich Joger of the Braunschweig Natural History Museum.

"It's a spectacular find. It raises new questions about the [Jurassic] extinction theory," he said.

The specimen is similar to the Speeton Clay ichthyosaur found in the north of England in 1958.

The experts say the predator fed on fish and squid and looked like a dolphin, though the species are not related.

The main dinosaur extinction event was at the end of the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago. It is widely believed a meteorite impact caused it.

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