In a first, scientists have discovered a near-complete fossilised skeleton of a Jurassic ichthyosaur - large marine reptile which lived alongside dinosaurs - in India.
Fossil records of ichthyosaurs, Greek for "fish lizards", have been previously found in North American and Europe. However, in the Southern Hemisphere, they have mostly been limited to South America and Australia.
Researchers including those from the University of Delhi and University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany have found what they believe to be the first Jurassic ichthyosaur in India, from the Kutch area in Gujarat.
The near-complete skeleton, nearly 5.5 metre (18ft) long, is thought to belong to the Ophthalmosauridae family, which likely lived between around 165 and 90 million years ago. Prof Guntupalli VR Prasad, who led the study, said specimen was almost complete and only parts of the skull and tail bones were found to be missing, BBC reported.
It was found among fossils of ammonites and squid-like belemnites, and its tooth wear patterns suggest it predated such hard, abrasive animals.
The findings have been published in the Plos One science journal.
"This is a remarkable discovery not only because it is the first Jurassic ichthyosaur record from India, but also it throws light on the evolution and diversity of ichthyosaurs in the Indo-Madagascan region of the former Gondwanaland and India's biological connectivity with other continents in the Jurassic," said Prasad, from the Department of Geology in University of Delhi.
While the study, has not yet been able to pinpoint the ichthyosaur's species, researchers believe that a full identification could inform on possible ophthalmosaurid dispersal between India and South America.
Scientists believe that the identification of the new specimen may further throw light on whether there was any marine connection between India and South America about 150 million years ago and will provide further insights into the evolution of marine reptiles in this part of the globe.