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In 1979, after inspecting several ichthyosaurs from the UK, palaeontologist Dr Robert Appleby announced a new type of ichthyosaur called Protoichthyosaurus. He also named two species, P. prostaxalis and P. prosostealis. Other scientists, however, dismissed the discovery of Protoichthyosaurus and suggested that it was identical with Ichthyosaurus, a very common UK ichthyosaur.
Now a detailed study led by palaeontologists Dean Lomax (The University of Manchester) and Professor Judy Massare (State University of New York), has re-examined and compared Protoichthyosaurus and Ichthyosaurus. It found major differences in the number of bones in the front fin, or forefin, of both species. This fundamental difference probably reflects the way both species used them to manoeuvre whilst swimming. Differences were also found in the skulls. But it was another discovery about the fins that also got the team's attention.
Lomax - Forefin - Structure - Robert - Appleby
Lomax explains: "This unusual forefin structure was originally identified by Robert Appleby in 1979, but some of the historic specimens he examined had been 'faked', and this fakery had been missed until now. In some instances, an isolated fin of an Ichthyosaurus had been added to a Protoichthyosaurus skeleton to make it appear more complete, which led to the genuine differences being missed. This has been a major problem because it stopped science from progressing. We also found some pathological fins, including Ichthyosaurus fins with pathologies that...
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