The massive 180 million-year-old fossilized bones of an ichthyosaur have been discovered in the United Kingdom, in what academics are calling one of the region’s most significant finds.
The specimen, discovered in a reservoir in the English East Midlands county of Rutland, is the biggest and most complete ichthyosaur fossil ever discovered in the United Kingdom, reaching almost 33 feet in length and weighing one ton.
It is also likely to be the first of its species, Temnodontosaurus trigonodon, to be discovered in the United Kingdom.
Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs and had a body form similar to that of dolphins. After originally existing 250 million years ago, they were extinct approximately 90 million years ago.
An artistic representation of how the ichthyosaur would have appeared.
Joe Davis, a conservation team leader from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, discovered the ichthyosaur in February of last year at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve, which is operated in partnership with owner Anglian Water.
Davis was doing normal re-landscaping work in the lagoon, which included emptying the water, when he noticed pieces of vertebrae jutting out of the muck, according to a news statement from the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.
Then, in August and September, a team of paleontologists led by Dean Lomax, an ichthyosaur expert and current visiting scientist at the University of Manchester, conducted a large-scale dig.
“It’s genuinely unusual because of the size and completeness,” Lomax told CNN, adding that earlier ichthyosaur discoveries in the UK had been “nowhere near as complete and as massive as this.”
It was the most complete huge example ever discovered, according to Lomax, with a length of 10 meters or more. He described it as “a truly great find” and “a true career highlight” for him.
“This was an apex predator at the top of the food chain,” he said of the discovery to CNN. “So it would have devoured other ichthyosaurs, enormous fish, and squids if it had caught them.”
However, Lomax stated that the find was only the “tip of the iceberg,” and that there was still much more to learn about the ichthyosaur when bits of rock were removed, including the potential that the reptile’s final meal was preserved or that the reptile was pregnant.
Regan Harris, a spokesman for Anglian Water, told CNN, “It was really mind blowing.” “When you were gazing at it in front of you, you couldn’t believe what you were seeing. But, yes, amazing.”
Smaller ichthyosaurs have previously been discovered on the Rutland Water location, according to Harris, but this find was exceptional because of its “sheer size” and “perfectly preserved” nature.
The Rutland ichthyosaur, according to Paul Barrett, Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum’s Earth Sciences Vertebrates and Anthropology Palaeobiology department, was “certainly one of the biggest fossil reptiles ever recovered, including dinosaurs.” Barrett had nothing to do with the discovery.
Barrett told CNN, “It’s actually a really remarkable, spectacular item.” “Certainly one of the most amazing marine fossil discoveries from the UK in the last 20 to 30 years or so,” says the author.
Barrett, whose research has focused on dinosaurs and other fossil reptiles such as ichthyosaurs, said the discovery proved the species’ “cosmopolitanism,” which had previously only been known from Germany.
A qualified paleontological conservator is presently treating the specimen, which will take 12-18 months. The goal after that, according to Harris, will be to put it on public display.
“We’re really proud of it,” she told CNN. “I know the local community is as well.” “We’d want to bring it back to Rutland and put it on exhibit for everyone to see.”
One ambition for Lomax, the principal researcher, is to dig deeper at the Rutland Water location, as six or seven ichthyosaur vertebrae were discovered during the excavation.
The fact that “serendipitous circumstances transpired to really create this find” had not gone unnoticed by him, he said.
Lomax told CNN, “Honestly, it’s really unique.” “Avid fossil hunters or paleontologists can spend their whole lives seeking for anything similar to this, even when they know what they’re looking for.”