Ichthyosaurs – An International Collaboration

“Todo comienza cuando dos mujeres se juntan y hablan. Y un día sin darnos cuenta… somos mil.”

Translation: “It all starts when two women get together and talk. And one day without realizing it… there are a thousand.”

This past May 21st was the 222nd birthday of Mary Anning–a woman who, at a time when most people didn’t understand what fossils were, nonetheless recognized, found, excavated and helped advance our understanding of extinct species. She discovered remarkable and varied fossils, including gorgeous specimens that hang in the Natural History Museum, London, today. 19th century scientists (and science, in general) benefited from her work, but most never gave her the credit she deserved. Were it not for the efforts of countless people, we wouldn’t know her now.

Mary is often associated with the ichthyosaur, an extinct marine reptile, as this was the first type of fossil she found in conjunction with her brother, Joseph. Over 200 years after Mary’s discovery, we’ve learned a great deal more about the diversity of this species, and their fossils have been found in many places throughout the world. A collaborative effort between two institutions in Colombia and Germany seeks to improve our knowledge of this species. Mary Luz Parra of the Villa de Leyva Paleontological Research Center (CIP, Colombia) and Erin Maxwell of the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart (SMNS, Germany) are currently facilitating that collaboration.

Images below highlight ichthyosaur replicas donated to each museum from the other, but this is just one of the many benefits.

“The scientific project resulting from this collaboration supports research and dissemination of regional paleontology, which has already provided the discovery of a new species of marine reptile (Muiscasaurus), and descriptions of skeletons of other ichthyosaurs and of a marine crocodile,” write Daniela Mera-Rodríguez and Dirley Cortés in a recent press release.

An exciting window into this research was recently presented at the virtual meeting of the Canadian Society of Vertebrate Paleontology by Dirley. It’s one thing to know, in the abstract, that ancient ecosystems were teeming with life. It’s another altogether to learn just how much we now know and to actually see–as presented in artistic reconstructions–which species co-existed and how that impacted ancient environments. We’ve come a very long way from Mary Anning’s important excavations, and we still have so much yet to learn!



Mary Luz Parra, manager of the Villa de Leyva Paleontological Research Center (Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas de Villa de Leyva, CIP, Colombia), holding the replica of Stenopterygius from the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History (SMNS, Germany), donated to the CIP collection.


Reconstruction of a Stenopterygius (a type of ichthyosaur) mother and baby in the Posidonia Shale sea. Artist – Dirk Baum, © Dirk Baum / SMNS




Erin E. Maxwell, paleontologist at the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart, SMNS, Germany), holding the replica of Muiscasaurus from the Colombian Paleontological Research Center, donated to the SMNS collection.

An enormous THANK YOU to Dirley Cortés for sharing her press release with me! ¡Muchas gracias!


  1. Press release by Daniela Mera-Rodríguez (Arizona State University/STRI) and Dirley Cortés (McGill University/STRI/CIP)
  2. Mary Anning: the unsung hero of fossil discovery; Marie-Claire Eylott, Natural History Museum, London.
  3. Mary Anning Rocks: the campaign for a statue of the paleontologist in Lyme Regis; Katie Pavid, Natural History Museum, London.
  4. Forgotten fossil found to be new species of ichthyosaur; Victoria Gill, BBC News, 2015.

Learn More About Mary Anning and Women in Paleontology (Archaeology & Geology):

  1. Mary Anning Rocks: https://www.maryanningrocks.co.uk
  2. Letters from Gondwana (which features many “Forgotten Women of Paleontology”): https://paleonerdish.wordpress.com
  3. Mary Anning’s Revenge: http://www.maryanningsrevenge.com
  4. TrowelBlazers: https://trowelblazers.com
  5. An Interview with Dr. Zulma Brandoni de Gasparini – an important paleontologist from Argentina, mentioned by Daniela and Dirley in their press releasehttp://www.magazinedeciencia.com.ar/la-paleontologia-moderna

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El CIP trae a Villa de Leyva uno de los laboratorios más avanzados de Latinoamérica en la preparación de fósiles vertebrados de hace más de 130 millones de años.


Km 5.5, vía a Santa Sofía, Municipio de Villa de Leyva, Boyacá, Colombia

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