The discovery of a short-snouted, oceangoing reptile with a whip-like tail suggests that some marine reptiles evolved quickly (geologically speaking) after a mass extinction 250 million years ago, a new study finds.
The finding turns an old theory on its head, showing that early marine reptiles didn't evolve slowly after the end-Permian extinction. The extinction wiped out about 96 percent of all marine species, largely due to climate change, volcanic eruptions and rising sea levels, the researchers said.
The newfound specimen from China is an early ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that looks a bit like a dolphin. Its discovery suggests that early ichthyosaurs evolved rapidly within the first million years of their evolution, during the early Triassic, the researchers wrote in the study. This is in contrast to the millions of years that researchers originally thought it took for these sea creatures to evolve. [In Images: Graveyard of Ichthyosaur Fossils Found in Chile]
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By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | May 23, 2016 02:10pm ET