Fossilized ‘sea dragon’ skeleton has been discovered
The fossilized skeleton of a giant ichthyosaur, or “sea dragon,” has been discovered in the UK by a team at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve.
USA TODAY, Storyful
Nature reserve workers performing routine maintenance of a lagoon made the “discovery of a lifetime” when they unearthed fossils of a “sea dragon,” the largest of its kind ever found in the United Kingdom.
At the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in the small county of Rutland in central England, worker Joe Davis was out to drain the lagoon for relandscaping when he noticed what looked like clay pipes sticking out of the mud. He had found the remains of whales and dolphins before, but a closer look revealed a massive vertebrae and jawbone belonging to the ferocious ichthyosaur.
“We couldn’t quite believe it,” Davis said in a statement.
A team of paleontologists was brought to the site to excavate the fossils in August and September 2021, and what they found was a nearly intact 32-foot-long skeleton with a skull weighing about 2,000 pounds, which makes it the “most complete large ichthyosaur ever found in Britain,” the team said.
The ichthyosaur, which means “fish lizard,” first appeared during the Triassic period about 250 million years ago but went extinct during the Cretaceous period, tens of millions of years before dinosaurs vanished about 65 million years ago, according to Britannica.
Comparable to dolphins and not technically a dinosaur, the species was one of the fastest, most deadly creatures in prehistoric times. There were many different types of ichthyosaurs, ranging from 3 feet to 82 feet long, and one recently discovered had a 3-foot-long skull of an animal that was able to feast on anything it wanted to.
‘Big as a car’: Scientists reveal discovery of 326-million-year-old giant millipede fossil
More: Dinosaur embryo found inside fossilized egg from more than 66 million years ago
Paleontologists said the ichthyosaur found in Rutland was about 180 million years old, dating back to the early Jurassic period. Other ichthyosaur remains had been found in the area, but this was the only complete one found. It also belonged to the predatory species Temnodontosaurus trigonodon, the first time the species had been found in the U.K.
“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 U.K. It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history,” said Dean Lomax, a paleontologist with the University of Manchester and renowned ichthyosaur expert. He added that the creature was an “apex predator.”
Mark Evans with the British Antarctic Survey and fellow at the University of Leicester said he was surprised to see the skeleton was complete from head to tail and found it fitting that the region’s largest ichthyosaur skeleton was found in England’s smallest county.
“It’s a highly significant discovery both nationally and internationally but also of huge importance to the people of Rutland and the surrounding area,” Evans said.
Paleontologists say the Rutland sea dragon will help identify other incomplete ichthyosaur skeletons that have been found in the country, as well as offer insight on the geographical range of the species. Further research will be done in future academic papers.
Anglian Water, which manages the Rutland reservoir, is asking for donations so the fossil can be displayed in Rutland within the next two years. The discovery will also be featured on BBC’s “Digging for Britain” on Tuesday.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.