This bizarre sea monster shows how strange life gets after an apocalypse

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post.

A newly discovered marine reptile is giving scientists a glimpse into the wondrous feats of nature in the face of adversity. Sclerocormus parviceps lived about 247 million years ago — in the aftermath of the most devastating mass extinction we know of, often referred to as “The Great Dying.” Some 96 percent of all species went extinct, and changes in ocean temperature and acidification meant that marine creatures were hit the hardest. But about a million years after this bloodbath, an oddball ichthyosaur shows just how quickly the planet bounced back — and evolved astonishingly diverse new species.

When mass extinctions occur, new kinds of plants and animals are able to flourish. That’s why humans exist: The extinction event that killed the dinosaur left the Earth without a reigning champ, so to speak – most of the planet’s massive predators (and most voracious vegetarians) disappeared. Some tiny, rodent-like mammals happened to have the right skill set to survive the carnage, and in the new world they had a sudden abundance of food and lack of predators. They (and other surviving animals) quickly evolved to fill all the different ecological niches left behind by dinosaurs, from the giant predators to the lazy grazers. Today, mammals fill many of the slots left behind by the dinosaurs. If another mass extinction wiped out most mammals, some other group would likely evolve to take spots left by humans, cheetahs, rats and everything in between.

Read the whole article The Washington Post.