Massive 10-metre 'sea dragon' skeleton discovered at Rutland Water

By Tom Mack & Karen Antcliff

The skeleton of a massive "sea dragon" has been discovered at Rutland Water.

It's the biggest ever discovered in Britain and its size is almost incomprehensible until you see a person lying next to it.

Scientists have hailed it as one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history.

READ MORE: 200-million-year-old fossil shows 'brutal attack' of squid-like creature

Joe Davis of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust stumbled upon the 180 million-year-old ichthyosaur fossil from the time of the dinosaurs during a routine draining of a lagoon island at the reservoir 11 months ago, reported Leicestershire Live.

It's the most complete ichthyosaur ever found, with its fossilized skeleton measuring about 10 metres in length and a skull weighing approximately one tonne.

Rutland Water is less than 35 miles from Nottingham city centre.

Ichthyosaurs are called "sea dragons" because they tend to have large teeth and eyes.

The first one was discovered in Dorset in 1812 by a little girl called Mary Anning, who went on to become a world-renowned fossil hunter.

Dr 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.”

An artist impression of an ichthyosaur (Bob Nicholls/Anglian Water/PA Wire)

Technically, ichthyosaurs are classed as marine reptiles rather than dinosaurs, but they appeared around the time of the first dinosaurs about 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago.

While unrelated, they resembled terrifying dolphins and ranged in length from about a metre to more than 25 metres.

After being found in February 2021, the remains in Rutland were dug out by a team of expert palaeontologists from around the UK in August and September.

Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs had been found during the initial construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s but the latest discovery is the first complete skeleton.

Palaeontologists at the site of the ichthyosaur skeleton (Anglian Water/PA Wire)

Dr Mark Evans of the British Antarctic Survey said: “I’ve been studying the Jurassic fossil reptiles of Rutland and Leicestershire for over 20 years.

“When I first saw the initial exposure of the specimen with Joe Davis I could tell that it was the largest ichthyosaur known from either county.

“However, it was only after our exploratory dig that we realised that it was practically complete to the tip of the tail.

It is the most complete fossil of its kind ever found in the UK (Anglian Water/PA Wire)

“It’s a highly significant discovery both nationally and internationally but also of huge importance to the people of Rutland and the surrounding area.”

Nigel Larkin, a specialist palaeontological conservator, said: “It’s not often you are responsible for safely lifting a very important but very fragile fossil weighing that much.

“It is a responsibility, but I love a challenge. It was a very complex operation to uncover, record, and collect this important specimen safely.”

The excavation of the remains will feature on BBC2's Digging For Britain on Tuesday, January 11, at 8pm.

To sign up for the Nottinghamshire Live newsletter click here


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.