Predator that roamed oceans 240m years ago dug up..with giant lizard in its belly

The ichthyosaur specimen with its stomach contents visible as a block that extrudes from its body. (Credits: Ryosuke Motani / SWNS.COM) A prehistoric sea monster that roamed the oceans 240 million years ago has been dug up – with a giant lizard in its belly.

The 15 foot ichthyosaur’s powerful jaws enabled it to rip the beast to bits – despite being only slightly smaller.

It died immediately afterwards – leading to the biggest fossil ever found in a creature’s stomach. Both were primitive marine reptiles.

Co-author Professor Ryosuke Motani, of the University of California, Davis, said: ‘We have never found articulated remains of a large reptile in the stomach of gigantic predators from the age of dinosaurs – such as marine reptiles and dinosaurs.

‘We always guessed from tooth shape and jaw design that these predators must have fed on large prey – but now we have direct evidence that they did.

‘Our ichthyosaur’s stomach contents weren’t etched by stomach acid, so it must have died quite soon after ingesting this food item.

‘At first, we just didn’t believe it. But after spending several years visiting the dig site and looking at the same specimens, we finally were able to ‘swallow’ what we were seeing.’

Dolphin-like Guizhouichthyosaurus was unearthed at a quarry in Guizhou province in southwestern China in 2010.

The quarry dig site where ichthyosaur and thalattosaur were uncovered, now part of the Xingyi Geopark Museum in China. (Credits: Ryosuke Motani / SWNS.COM) Its almost complete skeleton was remarkably preserved – and contained the 12 foot long thalattosaur.

Named Xinpusaurus xingyiensis, it was identified from a large block of smaller bones that bulge from the other animal’s abdomen.

It had a more slender, lizard-like frame – and four paddling limbs. These were still partially attached to its body. Its tail was found many yards away.

This showed the predator’s last meal was the thalattosaur’s middle section – from its front to back legs. It had been snapped in three. Its head has not been found.

The study published in iScience provides the oldest direct evidence ichtyosaurs of the Triassic were apex mega-predators – large animals that eat other large animals.

They appeared in the oceans after the Permian mass extinction 250 million years ago – and some grew to 60 feet.

They had fish-like bodies similar to modern tuna – but breathed air like dolphins and whales.

Like modern orca or great white sharks they may have ruled their ecosystems but there had been little proof – until now.

Their small, peg-like teeth had previously been thought to be adapted for grasping small, soft prey such as the squid-like animals abundant in the oceans at the time.

The stomach of this 240-million year old fossil ichthyosaur contains the mid-section of another marine reptile that...