Amazing Nature: Fossil of 180 Million Year Old Sea Dragon Unearthed in UK Reservoir
The specimen, the largest and most complete ichthyosaur fossil yet found in the UK, was unearthed in a reservoir in the county of Rutland, in the English East Midlands. It measures nearly 33 feet in length and has a one-ton cranium.
It is also believed to be the first specimen of Temnodontosaurus trigonodon of its particular species to be discovered in Britain.
Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that coexisted with dinosaurs and had a body shape similar to a dolphin. After first emerging 250 million years ago, they went extinct about 90 million years ago.
Joe Davis, a conservation team leader from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, which manages the nature reserve in collaboration with owner Anglian Water, initially discovered the ichthyosaur in the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in February of last year.
According to a news release from the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, Davis discovered vertebrae jutting out of the muck while performing routine landscaping work that required emptying the water in the lagoon.
Then, in August and September, a group of paleontologists under the direction of Dean Lomax, an authority on ichthyosaurs and a current visiting scientist at the University of Manchester, conducted a significant dig.
According to Lomax, prior ichthyosaur discoveries in the UK have been “nowhere near as complete and as large as this.” “The size and the completeness together is what makes it truly exceptional,” Lomax told CNN.
According to Lomax, it was the largest, most complete example (10 meters or more in length) ever discovered. According to him, it was “a really fantastic discovery” and “a real career highlight.”
He described the find to CNN as a “apex predator at the top of the food chain.” In other words, “this would have been eating other ichthyosaurs, large fish, and, if it could catch them, squids as well.”
The find, according to Lomax, was only the “tip of the iceberg,” and there is still more to learn about the specimen after large rocks have been removed. It’s even possible that the ichthyosaur was pregnant or that its last meal may have been preserved.
Regan Harris, an Anglian Water spokeswoman, told CNN, “It was just mind blowing.” “I mean, when you were looking at it in front of you, you kind of couldn’t really believe your eyes. However, fantastic.
Smaller ichthyosaurs had previously been discovered on the Rutland Water site, according to Harris, who was there during the dig, but this particular find was special due to its “sheer scale” and “well preserved” state.
The Rutland ichthyosaur, according to Paul Barrett, a Merit Researcher at the Earth Sciences Vertebrates and Anthropology Palaeobiology department of the Natural History Museum in London, was “probably one of the largest fossil reptiles ever found, including dinosaurs.” Barrett was not a part of the discovery.
According to Barrett, “it’s genuinely a really impressive, spectacular object.” One of the most amazing marine fossil finds from the UK, at least in the past 20 to 30 years, without a doubt.
Barrett, whose research has focused on fossil reptiles like ichthyosaurs and dinosaurs, said the discovery supported the species’ “cosmopolitanism” as it had previously only been known from Germany.
A qualified paleontological conservator is now working on the specimen; the procedure will take 12 to 18 months. The next step, according to Harris, is to put it on exhibit for the general public.
She told CNN, “We’re quite proud of it, and I know the local community is, too. We are really eager to bring it back to Rutland and put it on exhibit for the public’s enjoyment.
The lead researcher, Lomax, hopes to further investigate the Rutland Water location since during the excavation, six or seven vertebrae from more ichthyosaurs were also found.
The fact that “serendipitous things have actually happened to make this find,” he claimed, had not escaped his notice.
Lomax told CNN, “Honestly, it’s incredibly unusual.” Even when looking in the right places, diligent paleontologists and fossil hunters may spend their entire careers looking and never come upon anything precisely like this.
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