This new species of ichthyosaur, 10 meters long and with a skull that must have weighed a tonne, has been described as the largest ichthyosaur ever found in the UK. The impressive fossil of an extinct “sea dragon” lived 180 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period, when dinosaurs still walked the earth.
The first ichthyosaurs, called sea dragons because they used to have very large teeth and eyes, were discovered by famed fossil hunter and paleontologist Mary Anning in the early 19th century. Anning discovered the first ichthyosaur known to science at just 12 years old and was the basis for Ammonite, a 2020 film starring Kate Winslet as the paleontologist.
An impressive find
“It’s the largest and most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found here, so it’s a great find for many reasons,” said paleontologist Dean Lomax, who led the dig.
This extinct prehistoric predatory reptile was a real-life sea monster . With a body similar to a giant dolphin (and with size variations from 1 to more than 25 meters long), they lived together with the dinosaurs. They became extinct about 90 million years ago, after first appearing 250 million years ago.
The fossil was first found by Joe Davis, Conservation Team Leader at Leicestershire and the Rutland Wildlife Trust, during routine drainage of a lagoon island in Rutland Water in February 2021. The fragile remains were excavated during the summer of 2021. by a team of paleontologists and their findings have just been revealed this week.
The researchers also sampled fossils surrounding the main specimen, including squid-like ammonites and belemnites , to better understand the environment where the ichthyosaur lived and died, and to date the animal to approximately 182 million years.
The Rutland Sea Dragon lay covered in clay-rich rocks that the researchers say were deposited during the early Jurassic period, about 180 million years ago. It is believed to be the first of its species, Temnodontosaurus trigonodon , to be found in Britain, although preliminary findings have not yet been peer-reviewed.
Two much smaller, incomplete ichthyosaurs had previously been found during the construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s, but this latest discovery is the first complete skeleton. It is practically complete to the tip of the tail.
“Rutland’s motto, Multum in Parvo , translates to ‘Much in little,’ so it’s fitting that we’ve found Britain’s largest ichthyosaur skeleton in England’s smallest county. It is a very significant discovery both nationally and internationally , but also of great importance to the people of Rutland and the surrounding area,” said Mark Evans of the British Antarctic Survey and Visiting Fellow at the University of Leicester.
The team of paleontologists will continue to work on the investigation and conservation of this important scientific discovery, with academic articles to be published in the future.