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Ichthyosaurs, ancient marine reptiles from the Jurassic era that resembled dolphins, were like their modern counterparts in more ways than one, research suggests.
Scientists now believe they were warm blooded, and had insulating blubber, whale-like skin, and camouflage colouring.
Discovery - Researchers - Ichthyosaur - Years - Germany
The discovery was made after researchers studied an unusually well-preserved ichthyosaur that lived 180 million years ago in Germany.
They found chemical evidence of blubber, suggesting that the creature was warm-blooded.
Microstructures - Pigment - Remnants - Skin
Cell-like microstructures containing pigment remnants were also identified in the fossilised skin.
With their flippers and elongated noses, ichthyosaurs were similar in appearance to present-day dolphins.
Animal - Species - Stenopterygius - Ichthyosaur
The animal belonged to the species Stenopterygius ichthyosaur.
A remarkable analysis of its fossilised soft tissue - conducted by Lund University in Sweden - has shown for the first time that ichthyosaurs had blubber to insulate them against the cold water.
Day - Mammals - Buoyancy - Store - Ichthyosaurs
This is characteristic of modern day aquatic mammals. It also aids buoyancy and acts as a fat store. It confirms ichthyosaurs were warm-blooded.
In addition, the ichthyosaur skin is pigmented in a pattern that suggests the reptiles were 'countershaded' - dark on top and lighter on the bottom, or underbelly.
Colouration - Marine - Mammals - Today - Camouflage
This colouration is seen in many marine mammals today and acts as camouflage, protects against UV light and boosts heat regulation.
The camouflage would have helped protect them from the legendary pliosaur - the top predator of all time that could have had eaten a T Rex for breakfast.
Pterodactyls - Sky
It also prevented pterodactyls from swooping down on them from the sky.
Lead author Professor Johan Lindgren, said: 'Both the body outline and remnants of internal organs are clearly visible.
Fossil - Layers - Skin
'Remarkably, the fossil is so well-preserved that it is possible to observe individual cellular layers within its skin.'
More than twice the size of a killer whale, the pliosaur's 8ft long jaw was 4.5 times more powerful than a T-Rex.
It could easily swallow...
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