You wouldn’t know it from Tet Zoo’s content, but for many, many months now I’ve been working continually on ichthyosaurs, the ‘fish lizards’ of the Mesozoic. I’m not ready to talk about the project yet, but will do at some stage. An awful lot has happened on ichthyosaurs since the late 1990s, mostly thanks to the research of Ryosuke* Motani and Michael Maisch and their collagues, but to be honest things have become quieter in the last few years and we certainly are not in any sort of ‘ichthyosaur research renaissance’ as we are with plesiosaurs, dinosaurs, pterosaurs and Mesozoic crocodilians. Here in Britain for example, I’m not aware of anyone doing a devoted post-grad project on Ichthyosauria…
When it comes to any given tetrapod group, most interested people have some sort of ‘working cladogram’ in their heads.. alas, this seems not to be the case for ichthyosaurs. Let’s face it, you need to have kept a pretty good eye on the literature to know what’s going on. The above composite (taken from a talk I give on ichthyosaur diversity and evolution) shows, approximately, the current state of affairs: it is both highly simplified (with loads of taxa left out), and ‘consensus’ (viz, sort of a ‘best fit’ cladogram, as different studies have argued for different patterns of relationship). I include it here only as a pretty picture, as I know it’s too small for the text to be easily seen. I’ll follow up on all of this at some stage. Finally, the little images used above come from various sources and I apologise for stealing the work of various artists: many are by Ken Kirkland and come from Richard Hilton’s excellent Dinosaurs and Other Mesozoic Reptiles of California (2003, Uni Calif Press), the Stenopterygius is by Greg Paul, and the Leptonectes is by John Sibbick. Various others come from wikipedia. It’s very difficult to find accurate restorations of ichthyosaurs – most of what’s out there is awful – and what you see above includes the best of the best.
* Pronounced something like ‘rle-o-ski’ (pers. comm., so don’t argue).
next very soon: marsupial bears, marsupial dogs, marsupial cats, marsupial weasels!