Have you ever stopped to think what happened with animals millions of years ago when no veterinaries were around (nor even evolved enough) to cure their diseases and injuries?
I am Judith Pardo, I come from Tierra del Fuego in the southern Chilean Patagonia, I am a paleontologist and, as veterinarians do with the animals in the present, I research on diseases from extinct animals … unfortunately a bit late to cure them.
In the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde in Stuttgart (SMNS) I work specifically with ichthyosaurs. Why ichthyosaurs? Because the SMNS has one of the largest collections of these animals in the world recorded from the rich-in-fossils sediments of Southwest Germany and the areas around Stuttgart. The preservation of these ancient extinct animal is so magnificent that even part of the skin has been preserved. A perfect opportunity for me to study its bones in detail!
182 millions of years ago (Early Jurassic), the area of southwest Germany was part of an inland sea formed due to rising sea levels and connected to the Tethys Ocean – a totally different landscape than the present. Baden-Württemberg was a diverse marine ecosystem, which included a rich fauna of invertebrates as well as vertebrates, such as marine reptiles and fishes. Among the reptiles, the most abundant and diverse were the ichthyosaurs: marine reptiles with long snouts, four paddles used for locomotion and steering in the water, a dorsal fin for stabilization and a caudal fin used for thrust generation. Five different genera of ichthyosaurs have been recorded in this area: Stenopterygius, Hauffiopteryx, Suevoleviathan, Eurhinosaurus and Temnodontosaurus. Adult sizes ranged from 2.5 up to more than 9 meters long, with Temnodontosaurus being the largest genus and the top-predator of this area. Through the fossil record was also possible to recover adults, juveniles, neonates and even gravid females, which are part of the historical collections of the SMNS museum, the Urwelt Museum Hauff in Holzmaden and the Paleontological collection of the University in Tübingen, among others. Using these beautiful ichthyosaur specimens I examined each bone of every specimen to see if we could identify abnormalities, and, lucky us, but poor ichthyosaur, we did.