Soft-tissue evidence for homeothermy and crypsis in a Jurassic ichthyosaur

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Ichthyosaurs are extinct marine reptiles that display a notable external similarity to modern toothed whales. Here we show that this resemblance is more than skin deep. We apply a multidisciplinary experimental approach to characterize the cellular and molecular composition of integumental tissues in an exceptionally preserved specimen of the Early Jurassic ichthyosaur Stenopterygius. Our analyses recovered still-flexible remnants of the original scaleless skin, which comprises morphologically distinct epidermal and dermal layers. These are underlain by insulating blubber that would have augmented streamlining, buoyancy and homeothermy. Additionally, we identify endogenous proteinaceous and lipid constituents, together with keratinocytes and branched melanophores that contain eumelanin pigment. Distributional variation of melanophores across the body suggests countershading, possibly enhanced by physiological adjustments of colour to enable photoprotection, concealment and/or thermoregulation. Convergence of ichthyosaurs with extant marine amniotes thus extends to the ultrastructural and molecular levels, reflecting the omnipresent constraints of their shared adaptation to pelagic life.


  • Peter Sjövall
  • Volker Thiel
  • Wenxia Zheng
  • Shosuke Ito
  • Kazumasa Wakamatsu
  • Rolf Hauff
  • Benjamin P. Kear
  • Sven Sachs
  • Per E. Ahlberg
  • Federica Marone
  • Takeo Kuriyama
  • Per Malmberg
  • Aurélien Thomen
  • Irene Rodríguez-Meizoso
  • Makoto Ojika
Enheter & grupper
Externa organisationer
  • University of Göttingen
  • North Carolina State University
  • Fujita Health University
  • Uppsala universitet
  • Paul Scherrer Institute
  • University of Hyogo
  • Chalmers Tekniska Högskola
  • Göteborgs universitet
  • Nagoya University
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE)
  • Urweltmuseum Hauff
  • Naturkundemuseum Bielefeld

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Geologi
Sidor (från-till)359-365
Antal sidor7
Utgåva nummer7736
StatusPublished - 2018
Peer review utfördJa


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