Shonisaurus

SHONISAURUS POPULARIS

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This is another piece done for the Ichthyosaur gallery at ArtEvolved.   Shonisaurus is the largest ichthyosaur yet found, averaging 49 ft in length (69 ft for a recently discovered second species, S. sikkanniensis).    It was a pretty unusual-looking ichthyosaur, with a deep, rounded stomach, long, almost toothless snout and long pectoral and pelvic fins that were the same size (most ichthyosaurs have pelvic fins that are shorter than the pectorals). 

What drew me to Shonisaurus was the mystery concerning what it ate and how.  The large size and rotund body suggests a planktivore like a blue whale or a basking shark.  While the idea of an ichthyosaur with a baleen-like structure is intriguing, Shonisaurus’ snout seems too narrow for this to be an effective way of catching food since it wouldn’t have provided enough surface area (the lower jaws of baleen whales are strongly bowed out to the sides to create a bowl for scooping plankton).  Another possibility is that Shonisaurus fed off of large schools of fish and belemnites (extinct squid-like cephalopods).  Its long snout would seem perfect for this, except for the fact that this ichthyosaur is nearly toothless, so there’s nothing to with which to grip or bite into prey. 

To try and figure out what and how Shonisaurus ate, I did a little research on contemporary marine animals.  The best analogies I found were the beaked whales (family Zipiidae).  They catch their prey through a method known as suction-feeding, wherein the whale opens its mouth and quickly distends its tongue and throat, drawing in water and prey.  No teeth needed at all.  Sounds, to me, like a pretty good feeding method for Shonisaurus. 

Interestingly, the skulls of many beaked whales (particularly Baird’s and Gray’s) bear a strikingly long snout very similar to that of Shonisaurus.

By the way, those two sucker-like marks on the main Shonisaurus’ side are meant to be feeding scars from a predator similar to a lamprey or cookie-cutter shark.   

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Shonisaurus ©2010 John Meszaros.  All Rights Reserved