A live birth reptile’s delivery was captured in a recently discovered fossil in China that showed the massive prehistoric sea predator, known as ichthyosaurs, birthing its baby headfirst on land.
According to a new study, the mother apparently died during labor when the first of three offspring was stillborn, leading to an apparent complication that left the second half-emerged headfirst from her pelvis and the third remaining inside waiting to be born, LiveScience.com reported
"The reason for this animal dying is likely difficulty in labor," Ryosuke Motani, lead study author and a paleobiologist at the University of California, told Live Science. "Obviously, the mother had some complications."
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The finding, which was published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE
, confirmed that the first ichthyosaur babies came out headfirst on land before the creature evolved into a seafaring dinosaur.
Once underwater, researchers say the ichthyosaur gave-birth tail first, much like many marine mammals today, so to prevent the offspring from suffocating during labor. In contrast, the vast majority of land mammals give birth to their offspring headfirst.
"This land-style of giving birth is only possible if they inherited it from their land ancestors," Motani told Live Science. "They wouldn't do it if live birth evolved in water."
Due to prior fossil discoveries, scientists had already known that unlike many other reptiles of the day, the ichthyosaur carried live embryos, rather than eggs.
The ichthyosaur skeleton was found beneath a rock slab with a Saurichthys fish fossil and was only discovered when the fish fossil was prepared in the team's lab in China, according to Live Science.
The fossil of the ichthyosaur giving birth is approximately 10 million years older than other discovered fossil embryos from prehistoric reptiles.
The ichthyosaur skeleton, one of 80 that were reportedly unearthed during a recent dig in south Majiashan, China, is now being displayed at the Anhui Geological Museum in Hefei, China.
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