Fishing rod 'selfie stick' and scientific sleuthing turn up clues to extinct sea reptile

May 19, 2020

A Russian paleontologist visiting the Natural History Museum in London desperately wanted a good look at the skeleton of an extinct aquatic reptile, but its glass case was too far up the wall. So he attached his digital camera to a fishing rod and -- with several clicks -- snagged a big one, scientifically speaking.

Images from the "selfie stick" revealed that the creature, whose bones were unearthed more than a century ago on a coast in southern England, seemed very similar to a genus of ichthyosaurs he recognized from Russian collections.

He emailed the photos of the dolphin-like ichthyosaur to fellow paleontologist Megan L. Jacobs, a Baylor University doctoral candidate in geosciences. She quickly realized that the animal's skeletal structure matched not only some ichthyosaurs she was studying in a fossil museum on the English Channel coast, but also some elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Jacobs and paleontologist Nikolay G. Zverkov of the Russian Academy of Sciences -- who "fished" for the ichthyosaur -- merged their research, studying their collective photos and other materials and ultimately determining that the Russian and English ichthyosaurs were of the same genus and far more common and widespread than scientists believed.

Their study is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

"Ichthyosaurs swam the seas of our planet for about 76 million years," Jacobs said. "But this 5-foot ichthyosaur from some 150 million years ago was the least known and believed to be among the rarest ichthyosaurs. The skeleton in the case, thought to be the only example of the genus, has been on display in the Natural History Museum in London since 1922.

"Nikolay's excellent detailed photos significantly expand knowledge of Nannopterygius enthekiodon," she said. "Now, after finding examples from museum collections across the United Kingdom, Russia and the Arctic -- as well as several other Nannopterygius species -- we can say Nannopterygius is one of the most widespread genera of ichthyosaurs in the Northern Hemisphere."

Additionally, the study described a new species, Nannopterygius borealis, dating from about 145 million years ago in a Russian archipelago in the Arctic. The new species is the northernmost and youngest representative of its kind, Jacobs said.

Previously, for the Middle and Late Jurassic epochs, the only abundant and most commonly found ichthyosaur was Ophthalmosaurus, which had huge eyes and was about 20 feet long. It was known from hundreds of specimens, including well-preserved skeletons from the Middle Jurassic Oxford Clay Formation of England, Jacobs said.

"For decades, the scientific community thought that Nannopterygius was the rarest and most poorly known ichthyosaur of England," Zverkov said. "Finally, we can say that we know nearly every skeletal detail of these small ichthyosaurs and that these animals were widespread. The answer was very close; what was needed was just a fishing rod."
-end-


Baylor University

Related Digital Camera Articles from Brightsurf:

3D camera earns its stripes at Rice
The Hyperspectral Stripe Projector captures spectroscopic and 3D imaging data for applications like machine vision, crop monitoring, self-driving cars and corrosion detection.

A thin lensless camera free of noise
Scientists from Tsinghua University in China and MIT in the US report that applying a compressive sensing algorithm can significantly improve the quality of lensless imaging.

Next gen solar cells perform better when there's a camera around
A literal ''trick of the light'' can detect imperfections in next-gen solar cells, boosting their efficiency to match that of existing silicon-based versions, researchers have found.

Camera can watch moving objects around corners
By analyzing single particles of light, this camera system can reconstruct room-size scenes and moving objects that are hidden around a corner.

Camera brings unseen world to light
Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a highly compact, portable camera that can image polarization in a single shot.

Wild African ape reactions to novel camera traps
An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, analyzed video from remote camera-trap devices placed in ape-populated forests throughout Africa to see how wild apes would react to these unfamiliar objects.

Digital breast tomosynthesis vs digital mammography screening outcomes
This study compared data on 180,340 breast cancer screenings for about 96,000 women ages 40 to 74 who underwent screening with 3D digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) and 2D digital mammography to see if the outcomes varied by patient age and breast density.

Studying species interactions using remote camera traps
In a recent study carried out by researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Germany and University of California, Davis, USA, the scientists explored to what extent camera trap data are suitable to assess subtle species interactions such as avoidance in space and time.

Unique camera enables researchers to see the world the way birds do
Using a specially designed camera, researchers at Lund University in Sweden have succeeded for the first time in recreating how birds see colours in their surroundings.

Bioinspired camera could help self-driving cars see better
Inspired by the visual system of the mantis shrimp-researchers have created a new type of camera that could greatly improve the ability of cars to spot hazards in challenging imaging conditions.

Read More: Digital Camera News and Digital Camera Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.