We report a new fossil-bearing locality from the “Chaotic Complex” units in the Northern Apennine Chain of the Emilia-Romagna Region (northern Italy). The material collected includes an articulated series of nine caudal vertebrae referable to a large-bodied ichthyosaur. Based on the nannofossil assemblage sampled from the matrix encasing the vertebrae, we refer the specimen to the early Aptian: this is the first accurate chronostratigraphic dating of a Cretaceous ichthyosaur from the Apennine Chain. The discovery of this new fossil-bearing locality is also significant because of the rather poor record of Aptian ichthyosaurs worldwide. Compared to the large majority of vertebrate remains from the “Chaotic Complex” units, usually represented by isolated or damaged skeletal elements, the specimen retains several vertebral elements in articulation and is associated to ichnological traces left by possibly saprophagous invertebrates, a taphonomic pattern which might indicate depositional conditions less destructive than those usually assumed for the genesis of the “Chaotic Complex’’ vertebrate fossils. The presence of both ichthyosaurs and thalattosuchians in the Aptian of Italy supports the persistence in the Western Tethys of the large-bodied pelagic reptile clades typical of the Middle and Late Jurassic along the first half of the Early Cretaceous.
Appennine Chain, Aptian, “Chaotic Complex” units, Early Cretaceous, Ichthyosauria, Italy