Huge “sea dragon” named one of Great Britain’s greatest fossil finds

An Ichthyosaurus about 10 meters long and 180 million years old has been discovered in the Midlands and has been called one of the greatest finds in the history of British paleontology.

The Ichthyosaurus, about 180 million years old with a skeleton about 10 meters long and a skull weighing about a ton, is the largest and most complete fossil of its kind ever found in Britain. Joe Davies of the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust discovered it during a planned dewatering at Rutland Water Reservoir in February 2021.

The first ichthyosaurs, called sea dragons because they usually have very large teeth and eyes, were discovered by fossil hunter and paleontologist Mary Anning in the early 19th century.

Dean Lomax, a paleontologist who studied the species, said: “Despite the many fossils of ichthyosaurs found in Britain, it is remarkable that the Rutland ichthyosaur is the largest skeleton ever found in Britain. This is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in the history of British paleontology.”

Ichthyosaurs, which were marine reptiles, first appeared about 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago. They ranged in size from 1 to more than 25 meters in length, and their overall body shape resembled that of dolphins.

The remains were excavated by a team of experts from all over Britain in August and September.

Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were found during the construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s, but the latest find is the first complete skeleton.

Mark Evans of the British Antarctic Survey, who has been studying Jurassic reptile fossils in Rutland and Leicestershire for more than 20 years, said that even the first glance at the partially exposed fossil was clear that it was the largest ichthyosaur found in the region.

“However, it wasn’t until we excavated that we realized it was almost complete to the tip of its tail,” he said. “This is a very important discovery, both nationally and internationally, and of great significance to the people of Rutland and the surrounding area.”

Nigel Larkin, a paleontological conservationist, said: “It’s not often you have to be responsible for the safe lifting of a very important but very fragile fossil that weighs so much. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I love a challenge. It was a very difficult operation to locate, record and safely collect this important specimen.”

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