Huge sea dragon fossil hailed as one of UK's greatest palaeontological finds

The skeleton measures around 10 metres in length and the skull weighs approximately one tonne.

The fossilised remains of a giant sea dragon discovered by chance in the UK has been hailed as one of Britain's greatest palaeontological finds.

The fossil of the prehistoric ichthyosaur, a large marine reptile known colloquially as a sea dragon, dates back about 180 million years. 

The skeleton measures around 10 metres in length and the skull weighs approximately one tonne, making it the largest and most complete fossil of its kind ever found in the UK.

It was found by chance by Joe Davis of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust during a routine draining of a lagoon island at Rutland Water reservoir in February 2021.

"A lot of people spend their careers looking for something like this," Mr Davis said.

Giants of the sea

Ichthyosaurs grew up to 25 metres long. (AFP/University of Edinburgh/Todd Marshall)

Fossil hunter and early palaeontologist Mary Anning discovered the first ichthyosaur fossil in the early 19th century.

They were dubbed sea dragons due to their very large teeth and eyes. 

Their shape resembles that of a dolphin and they first appeared in our seas about 250 million years ago. 

The species went extinct 90 million years ago.

They varied in size from one metre to more than 25 metres in length, making them giants of the sea. 

Ichthyosaurs had sharp, conical teeth set inside a long, pointy snouts. (Supplied: Australian Museum)

The largest animals on the planet, the Antarctic blue whale, can reach up to 30 metres in length, according to the World Wildlife Fund. 

Ichthyosaur expert Dean Lomax said he was excited by the find. 

"Not only is this the largest ichthyosaur skeleton ever found in Britain, but it's also the largest complete skeleton of any prehistoric reptile found here in the UK as well, which is an amazing, amazing find."

'There may be embryos inside it'

The excavation began in August last year.  (Reuters: Anglian Water/Matthew Power Photography)

The excavation took place between August and September 2021. 

It is not the first ichthyosaur to be found at Rutland; two smaller and incomplete fossils were discovered during the construction of the reservoir in the 1970s. 

Nigel Larkin, a specialist palaeontological conservator, said the creature had a lot more to tell us about its life. 

"If it was a female and if it was pregnant, because they gave birth to live young, there may be embryos inside it."

Mr Larkin said while this discovery would answer a lot of questions, many more would remain.

"This is just a piece of the jigsaw in terms of what's happened in the past."

ABC/wires


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