Over 200 million years ago, during the Triassic Period, the oceans of Earth were roamed by giant marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs. Larger than school buses, these toothed giants topped the food chain or so it was thought. However, new evidence from fossils analysed by paleontologist Mark McMenamin suggests that an even larger predator fed on these sea monsters - one which could resemble the mythical kraken, a giant octopus like sea creature.
Studying the fossil of a 45 foot long Shonisaurus popularis (illustrated above) at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada, McMenamin studied the etching on some of the bones. The etching suggested that the shonisaurs were not killed and buried at the same time. It also looked like the bones had been purposefully rearranged. In addition, the arranged vertebrae resembled the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker. This got McMenamin thinking about a particular modern predator, the octopus, which drowns or breaks the neck of their prey before dragging the corpses to their lair. The modern octopus is also known to arrange the bones of its prey. But such a predator would need to be colossal to bring down the Shonisaurus, leading McMenamin to believe that the mythical kraken may once have existed.
However, there is no direct evidence for the beast - which would have been the most intelligent animal on the planet at the time - though McMenamin suggests that's because it was soft-bodied and didn't stand the test of time. McMenamin presented his work yesterday at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in the US. Don't worry though - it's safe to go in the water!