ULYANOVSK, March 30 (RIA Novosti) – Russian paleontologists have named a recently discovered fossil ichthyosaur after Lenin, the head of the Natural History Museum at Ulyanovsk State University told RIA Novosti on Friday.
The ichthyosaurs were large marine reptiles that are thought to have inhabited the Earth’s oceans in the Mesozoic era, a geological definition of a period of time stretching from about 251 million years ago to about 65 million years ago.
Predecessors of today’s lizards and snakes, ichthyosaurs are not considered dinosaurs.
“The name Leninia stellans was agreed collegially. There is nothing strange about the name, many new discoveries are named after famous people,” Gleb Uspensky, who heads the Natural History Museum at Ulyanovsk State University said.
In 2012, a team of researchers from US universities Yale and Harvard named a prehistoric lizard Obamadon gracilis, after Barack Obama, reportedly inspired by the US President’s “toothy grin.”
The same year, a new species of parasite discovered in Kenya was named Paragordius obamai – also in honor of President Obama. According to research published in the online, peer-reviewed journal Plos One, the parasite is chiefly notable for “eliminating the need for males” and quickly earned the moniker “lesbian parasite.”
Uspensky explained how the naming system works: “the ‘Lenin’ part indicates the genus, and the ‘stellans’ (meaning starry or brilliant) indicates the type species. If we find another ichthyosaur from this genus, then it will be given a different name. ‘Lenin Smiling,’ for example.”
The fossil dates from around 125 or 122 million years ago, according to the Paleobiology Database.
Paleontologists found the incomplete skull several years ago near the village of Kriushi in the Sengileevsk region of Ulyanovsk.
“The skull was over a meter long. Externally the ichthyosaur resembled a modern-day dolphin, and fed on fish and mollusks,” Uspensky said.
The fossil is being kept at the local history museum in Ulyanovsk.