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Cymbospondylus (Wikimedia Commons)


Cymbospondylus (Greek for "boat-shaped vertebrae"); pronounced SIM-bow-SPON-dill-us


Shore of North America and Western Europe

Historical Period:

Middle Triassic (220 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 25 feet long and 2-3 tons


Fish and marine organisms

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; long snout; lack of dorsal fin


About Cymbospondylus:

There's a bit of a disagreement among paleontologists about where Cymbospondylus is located on the ichthyosaur ("fish lizard") family tree: some maintain that this huge swimmer was a genuine ichthyosaur, while others speculate that it was an earlier, less specialized marine reptile from which later ichthyosaurs evolved (which would make it a close relative of Californosaurus). Supporting the second camp is Cymbospondylus’ lack of two distinctive ichthyosaur traits, a dorsal (back) fin and a flexible, fish-like tail.

Whatever the case, Cymbospondylus was certainly a giant of the Triassic seas, attaining lengths of 25 feet or more and weights approaching two or three tons. It probably fed on fish, mollusks, and any smaller aquatic reptiles dumb enough to swim across its path, and the adult females of the species may have flocked to shallow waters (or even dry land) to lay their eggs.


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