A gigantic fossilised “sea dragon” discovered in the UK’s Rutland reservoir has been described as one of the greatest finds in the history of British palaeontology.
The ichthyosaur, approximately 180 million years old, is the largest and most complete fossil of its kind ever found in the UK. It has a skeleton around 10 metres in length and a skull weighing approximately one tonne, report BBC.
It was discovered by Joe Davis of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust during a routine draining of a lagoon island at Rutland Water in February 2021.
“I rang up the county council and I said I think I’ve found a dinosaur,” explained Joe Davis.
“I looked down at what seemed like stones or ridges in the mud and I said this looks a bit organic, a bit different,” Mr Davis told BBC. “Then we saw something that looked almost like a jawbone.”
The first ichthyosaurs, which are called sea dragons because they tend to have very large teeth and eyes, were discovered by fossil hunter and palaeontologist Mary Anning in the early 19th century.
“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,” Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist who has studied the species, said.
“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history,” he added.
The council said to Mr Davis: “We don’t have a dinosaur department at Rutland County Council so we’re going to have to get someone to call you back.” A team of palaeontologists were brought in for a closer look.
Ichthyosaurs, which were marine reptiles, first appeared around 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago. They varied in size from one to more than 25 metres in length and resembled dolphins in general body shape.
The remains were dug out by a team of expert palaeontologists from around the UK in August and September.
Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were found during the initial construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s. However, the latest discovery is the first complete skeleton.
The excavation of the remains will feature on BBC Two’s Digging For Britain on Tuesday at 8pm.