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Live birth reptile: Fossil of oldest sea monster babies found

The oldest embryos of a live birth reptile have been found.
Ryosuke Motani - UC Davis

A new study now says that the oldest embryos of a Mesozoic marine reptile have been unearthed in China. According to Live Science on Feb. 12, 2014, that pre-dates the previous record by 10 million years, and showed an ichthyosaur baby inside its mother and another stuck in per pelvis for the live birth reptile.

A third embryo was actually found nearby and study of it suggests that it was stillborn. Scientists believe that the mother ended up dying during a very difficult labor.

It is believed that the 248-million-year-old fossil is from the Mesozoic era (252 to 66 million years ago).

The age of the Mesozoic-era fossil isn't the only thing that was realized by the discovery, but a long-time belief about ichthyosaurs - aka sea monsters - giving birth in water and not on land could be shattered.

Scientists came to this conclusion because the fossil actually showed the baby being delivered head-first. This is a behavior found in animals that only give birth on land. Most marine animals born in the water, come out tail-first.

"That was a big surprise. Initially I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that," said study leader Ryosuke Motani, a prehistoric marine reptile expert at the University of California, Davis who was involved in the study.

A lot more studying and research needs to be done about the live birth reptile and if land or water births were more common.

Burial positions already of the fossils already show that it was unlikely the babies were released from the mother after death.

"The reason for this animal dying is likely difficulty in labor," said Ryosuke Motani, lead study author and a paleobiologist at the University of California, Davis. Motani believes the first baby was born dead, and the mother may have died of a labor complication from the second, which is stuck half-in, half-out of her body. "Obviously, the mother had some complications," he said.

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