Exceptional Fossil Preservation: A Unique View on the Evolution of Marine Life

By David J. Bottjer; Walter Etter et al. | Go to book overview

13
Berlin-Ichthyosaur: Preserving Some
of the Earth's Largest Marine Vertebrates
David J. Bottjer

REMARKABLE FOSSIL DEPOSITS THAT PRESERVE ARTICU lated marine reptiles are common among Mesozoic Lagerstätten. Although some of these Lagerstätten, such as Monte San Giorgio (Chapter 12), preserve a startling diversity of articulated marine reptiles, and some, such as the Posidonia Shale (Chapter 15), have extensive softtissue preservation, others lay their claim to fame on different factors. Complete skeletons of the ichthyosaur Shonisaurus popularis are found within the Upper Triassic Luning Formation in the Shoshone Mountains at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, Nye County, Nevada (Camp 1981; Orndorff, Wieder, and Filkorn 2001) (Figures 13.1 and 13.2). These skeletons come from a deposit reputed to be the richest source of ichthyosaurs in North America (Hogler 1992). The park takes its name not only from the ichthyosaur fossils, but also from the nearby ghost town of Berlin, founded in the late nineteenth century by miners who are said to have used ichthyosaur vertebrae as dinner plates. They easily could have functioned as dinner plates, because the ichthyosaur skeletons show that some individuals apparently reached a length of 18 m, with skulls 3 m long (Figure 13.3) and a weight in life of approximately 40 tons (Camp 1981). Such large carnivores have been termed superpredators (Fischer and Arthur 1977), and these Late Triassic ichthyosaurs were apparently some of the largest marine animals known up until that time (Alexander 1998). Ichthyosaurs from this locality are interpreted to have been deposited as part of a conservation Lagerstätte that was formed as a stagnation deposit (Hogler 1992).

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