Sea dragon: UK’s biggest fossil has been discovered in the Midlands

Scientists who made the discovery are calling the 180 million year-old ichthyosaur, one of the greatest palaeontological finds in history.

Scientists in the UK have discovered the biggest prehistoric ‘sea dragon’ in the Midlands. The find had been described as one of the greatest fossil discoveries in the history of British palaeontology.

The Find

The fossil of ichthyosaur is about 180 million years old. Its skeleton is about 10 metres long, with a skull weighing a tonne, making it the largest and most complete fossil of its kind ever found in the UK.

The discovery was made by Joe Davis of the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, who came across it during the routine draining of a lagoon island at the Rutland Water reservoir in February 2021.

He recounted the moment the discovery was made:

I looked down at what seemed like stones or ridges in the mud and I said this looks a bit organic, a bit different... Then we saw something that looked almost like a jawbone.

Unprecedented Find

Ichthyosaurs—also called sea dragons because of their unusual large teeth and eyes—were first discovered in the 19th century by fossil hunter, Mary Anning.

Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist who has studied the species, said:

Despite the many ichthyosaur fossils found in Britain, it is remarkable to think that the Rutland ichthyosaur is the largest skeleton ever found in the UK. It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history.

Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles and first appeared 250 million years ago. They went extinct some 90 million years ago.

During the initial construction of the Rutland water reservoir in the 1970s, two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were found. But, this latest discovery is the first complete skeleton. Dr Lomax said:

Usually we think of ichthyosaurs and other marine reptiles being discovered along the Jurassic coast in Dorset or the Yorkshire coast, where many of them are exposed by the erosion of the cliffs. Here at an inland location is very unusual.
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