Ichthyosaur: Huge 180 Million Year Old ‘Sea Dragon’ Fossil Found in British Reservoir

Discovered in a reservoir in Rutland County, in the English East Midlands, the specimen is the largest and most complete of the ichthyosaurs fossil never found in the UK, measuring almost 33 feet long and with a skull weighing a ton.

It is also believed to be the first of its particular species – Temnodontosaurus trigonodon – to be found in Britain.

Marine reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs, ichthyosaurs resembled dolphins in the shape of a body. They died out around 90 million years ago, after they first appeared 250 million years ago.

The ichthyosaur was first discovered in February last year in Rutland Water Nature Reserve by Joe Davis, a conservation team leader from Leicestershire and the Rutland Wildlife Trust, which operates the nature reserve in partnership with owner Anglian Water.

Davis was undertaking routine redevelopment work, which involved draining water from the lagoon, when he spotted parts of vertebrae protruding from the mud, the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust said in a report. Press release.

Then followed a large-scale excavation in August and September by a team of paleontologists, led by Dean Lomax, an ichthyosaur expert and currently visiting scholar at the University of Manchester.

“The size and completeness together is what makes it truly exceptional,” Lomax told CNN, adding that previous ichthyosaur discoveries in the UK had been “nowhere near as complete and as significant as this one. this”.

Lomax said it was the most complete large specimen – which he classified as 10 meters or more in length – found in the world. He said it was “a really fantastic discovery” and, for him, “a real career highlight”.

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“It was a top of the food chain, a top predator,” he told CNN of the find. “So it would have eaten other ichthyosaurs, it would have eaten big fish, it would have eaten, if it could have caught them, squid as well.”

However, Lomax said the find was only the “tip of the iceberg,” with much remains of the specimen to be discovered after chunks of rock were cleared away, with the possibility that the last meal of the ichthyosaur may have been preserved or even that the reptile may have been pregnant.

“It was just mind-blowing,” Anglian Water spokesperson Regan Harris told CNN. “I mean, you couldn’t really believe your eyes when you looked at him in front of you. But yeah, amazing.”

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Harris, who was on site for the dig, said smaller ichthyosaurs had already been found at the Rutland Water site, but the “large-scale” and “well-preserved” nature of this particular find made it unique.

Paul Barrett, a merit researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences and Anthropology of Paleobiology at the Natural History Museum in London, said Rutland’s ichthyosaur was “probably one of the largest fossil reptiles ever to be found, including dinosaurs”. Barrett was not involved in the discovery.

“It really is a really impressive and spectacular object,” Barrett told CNN. “Certainly one of the UK’s most impressive marine fossil finds that I can remember for at least the last 20-30 years.”

Barrett, whose work has covered dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles, including ichthyosaurs, said the discovery confirmed the “cosmopolitanism” of the species, which was previously mainly known in Germany.

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The specimen is currently being processed by a specialized paleontological curator, a process that will take 12 to 18 months. Following that, Harris said, the goal will be to exhibit it to the public.

“We’re very proud of it, and I know the local community is too,” she told CNN. “We really want to take it home to Rutland and display it for people to enjoy.”

For Lomax, the principal investigator, one hope is to further explore the Rutland Water site, as six or seven vertebrae of other ichthyosaurs were also discovered during the excavation.

He said it was not lost on him that “fortuitous things happened to make this discovery”.

“Honestly, it’s incredibly unusual,” Lomax told CNN. “Passionate fossil hunters or paleontologists, they can research their entire career and never find anything like it, even when you know where to look. ”

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