ALL-NEW Ancient Oceans Exhibit!

Learn more about the Ancient Oceans marine animals before your visit. See below for just a few amazing Ancient Ocean fun facts and be sure to join one of our exhibit tours to learn even more!

1. Ichthyosaurus

  • Looked like a dolphin, but it was a reptile. Its tail moved side to side while swimming, rather than up and down like marine mammals.
  • Lived in the late Triassic and early Jurassic period.
  • Its name means “fish lizard”, since it was one of the earliest discovered marine reptiles.
  • Ichthyosaurus was the first big fossil to be discovered by early paleontologist Mary Anning, and was thought by many at the time to be a crocodile.
  • Ichthyosaurus was a small member of the Ichthyosaur family, reaching only 3.3 meters or 11 feet long. Another Ichthyosaur, Shonisaurus, could reach up to nearly 70 feet.
  • Ichthyosaurus fossils found in Germany have been found with bones of infants inside them, proving that they gave live birth, rather than laying eggs.

2. Plesiosaurus

  • Plesiosaurus means “near reptile” because it was only the second prehistoric marine reptile discovered after Ichthyosaurus, and much “nearer” in appearance to modern reptiles.
  • Long neck was stiff and inflexible.
  • Ate small fish and belemnites
  • Plesiosaurus was a small member of the plesiosaur family. Others became much larger.

3. Ammonite

  •  Ammonites are cephalopods; relatives of squids with hard exterior shells.
  • They spanned from the Devonian until the end of the Cretaceous, when they were killed in the same extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs.
  • It is thought that some varieties may have contained ink sacks, like modern cephalopods.
  • Ammonite fossils found by people in antiquity were thought to be petrified coiled snakes. Some merchants would carve or paint serpent heads onto them.
  • The 19th Century fossil hunter, Mary Anning, found and sold Ammonite shells near her home. This is remembered by the tongue twister, “She sells sea shells down by the sea shore.”

4. Liopleurodon

  • A member of the Pliosaur family, a group of short necked plesiosaurs.
  • “Liopleurodon” means “smooth sided teeth”
  • Liopleurodon was a predator from the Jurassic period.
  • The largest Liopleurodons could reach lengths of 6.4 meters, or 21 feet.
  • It had a short tail, but strong, powerful fins. Research suggests it may have been an ambush predator.

5. Elasmosaurus

  • A member of the plesiosaur family that lived in the late Cretaceous period.
  • It had an extremely long neck, which was about 2/3rds of the length of its body.
  • It reached at least 10.3 meters, or 34 feet long, possibly even longer.
  • The only known complete skeleton was found by an Army surgeon in Fort Wallace, Kansas in 1867.
  • Elasmosaurus was described and named by the 19th Century paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. However, he mistakenly placed the skull on what was actually the tail. This mistake was pointed out by his rival, Othniel Charles Marsh. This sparked a conflict between the two men into what would later become known as the Bone wars.

6. Tylosaurus

  • The name Tylosaurus means “knob lizard”, because the tip of its skull ends in a bony lump.
  • Tylosaurus belongs to the Mosasaur family.
  • It was one of the largest members of the Mosasaur family, reaching lengths up to 14 meters, or 45 feet!
  • It had extra teeth hidden in the back of its mouth to help it keep a better grip on prey.
  • While they lived globally, they are most commonly found in the interior of the United States, in an ancient inland ocean called the Western Interior Seaway.
  • Tylosaurus is the largest member of the Mosasaur family found in North America.
  • Like other reptiles, they had a light-sensitive organ at the top of their heads known as a “Parietal eye”, allowing them to detect changes in the amount of light above them, useful for a predator that might wait in the depths for unwary prey to swim above it.
  • Their forked tongues would have allowed them to “taste” the water around them, to better track the scent of their prey.

7. Archelon

  • Archelon was the largest known Sea Turtle.
  • Archelon could reach approximately 4 meters (14 feet) long, and 4.9 meters (16 feet) between the tips of their front flippers.
  • Found in the Western Interior Seaway.
  • While it lived in the ocean, it would have come on land to lay eggs.
  • It’s shell was not a solid piece, but a network of ribs covered in a leathery carapace.
  • Archelon had a powerful hooked beak, likely used to crush mollusks. 

8. Xiphactinus

  • Unlike most of the animals in this scene, it isn’t a reptile, but a prehistoric fish.
  • It reached lengths of up to 6 meters, or 20 feet.
  • Xiphactinus was a fast, voracious predator.
  • It had a body that resembled a tarpon, and a face like an anglerfish, although it wasn’t directly relate to either.
  • In 1952, a Xiphactinus skeleton was discovered in Kansas with a nearly intact 1.8 meter (6 foot) fish inside it’s belly. 
  • In 2010, another Xiphactinus fossil was found with a detached Mosasaur flipper still in its jaws.

9. Megalodon

  • Megalodon was the largest shark known to science
  •  They hunted whales and other marine mammals.
  • Lived in the Neogene period, from approximately 23 to 3.6 million years ago.
  • Megalodon had the most powerful known bite of any animal, estimated between 25,000 and 40,000 pounds of force.
  • The name “Megalodon” means Giant Tooth. Unlike most extinct animals, its common name is its species name, rather than its genus.
  • Megalodon was probably driven extinct due to competition from other new marine predators, such as the prehistoric Sperm Whale, Livyatan melvilli, as well as a new, smaller, more agile predatory shark, Carcharodon carcharias, better known as the Great White Shark.