Green highlights the mother’s skeleton, yellow the unborn embryo inside, purple the animal being born and red the remains of another

rare fossil has revealed how marine reptiles evolved to give birth to live young, scientists say.

The fossilised Chaohusaurus was discovered in central China’s Anhui Province and includes the remains of three babies.

The animals lived 248 million years ago and are the earliest of the marine reptiles from the Mesozoic Era.

Experts suggest the position of the babies shows that giving birth to live young evolved on land, not in the sea.

The preserved partial skeleton shows the mother’s tail extending to the right, her ribs on the left and her pelvis and hind flipper in the centre.

The skulls of two embryos are visible, one still inside the mother and the other exiting her pelvis.

A third newborn’s bones were also preserved beneath the mother’s tail.

The fossil is the earliest of its kind and one of only two rare records of Icthyosaurs giving birth.

Previous studies have revealed that live births were common in marine reptiles that could not lay eggs at sea or walk on land but scientists have debated where this style of reproduction originated.

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