Colossal Prehistoric Sea Dragon Fossil Unearthed in UK
The giant 180 million-year-old ichthyosaur fossil is the largest and most complete one ever found in the United Kingdom
Last year, nearly-complete fossilized remains of a ten-meter-long ichthyosaur, a large marine reptile commonly known as a sea dragon, was discovered at the bottom of Rutland Water Nature Reserve’s reservoir. The 180 million-year-old fossil of the prehistoric ‘sea dragon’ is the largest one to be ever unearthed in the UK.
Other smaller ichthyosaurs had previously been discovered on the site but this particular one is massive in comparison. The discovery is truly unprecedented and significant in the region owing to the colossal size and completeness of the remains.
It is believed that the creature was the first of its particular species – Temnodontosaurus trigonodon – to be found in Britain. Many marine reptiles lived alongside the dinosaurs; ichthyosaurs had dolphin-like bodies. The species first appeared about 250 million years ago and became extinct around 90 million years ago.
The fossilized remains in Rutland were discovered by Joe Davis, a conservation team leader from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, which operates the nature reserve in collaboration with owner Anglian Water.
Davis spotted parts of vertebrae sticking out of the mud while he drained the water for a routine re-landscaping process. Afterward, a large-scale excavation was carried out in August and September by a team of paleontologists, led by Dean Lomax, an ichthyosaur expert and a visiting scientist at the University of Manchester.
Lomax said that it was the most complete large specimen to have ever been discovered globally. He further added;
The size and the completeness together is what makes it truly exceptional…This was a top of the food chain, apex predator. So this would have been dining on other ichthyosaurs, it would have been eating large fish, it would have eaten, if could catch them, squids as well.
He also included that the discovery was the “tip of the iceberg,” and there was much of the specimen that was still to be uncovered. After the removal of rock chunks, there is a possibility that the creature’s last meal may have been preserved.
Paul Barrett, Merit Researcher in the Earth Sciences Vertebrates and Anthropology Palaeobiology department at the Natural History Museum in London, who was not involved in the dig, said that Rutland ichthyosaur was “probably one of the largest fossil reptiles ever found, including dinosaurs.”
Currently, the specimen is being treated by a specialist paleontological conservator, a process that will go on for 12-18 months. After this, the remains will most likely be put on display for the public.