A large “sea dragon” that lived around 180 million years ago has been called “one of the greatest” fossil finds that has ever happened in the United Kingdom. Measuring 33 feet in length (10 meters), this ichthyosaur is the largest that has ever been found in the UK. Incredibly, just its skull measured 6 feet in length (1.8 meters). It was unearthed in England’s Rutland Water Nature Reserve.
Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles (also referred to as “sea dragons”) that looked similar to dolphins. They could grow anywhere between 3 and 82 feet in length (1 to 25 meters). They had exceptionally large eyes which suggested that they hunted by sight and could even do so during the night or in poorly lit water. They actually have the record for the largest eyes ever found on a vertebrate – the eyes that belonged to the Temnodontosaurus platyodon species had a diameter of 10.4 inches.
In addition to being the largest ichthyosaur found in the UK, the fossil at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve is also the most complete fossil that has been discovered there. Furthermore, it is believed to be the first ever remains belonging to the Temnodontosaurus trigonodon species unearthed in the country.
The fossil was found by Joe Davis who is the conservation team leader at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. It was discovered when a lagoon island was drained for re-landscaping. “The find has been absolutely fascinating and a real career highlight,” he said, adding, “It’s great to learn so much from the discovery and to think this amazing creature was once swimming in seas above us.”
Palaeontologist Dr. Dean Lomax, who was the head of the excavation team, said, “Now, once again, Rutland Water is a haven for wetland wildlife albeit on a smaller scale.” “Britain is the birthplace of ichthyosaurs – their fossils have been unearthed here for over 200 years.” “Despite the many ichthyosaur fossils found in Britain, it is remarkable to think 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.”
Now that the fossil has been fully excavated, it is being analyzed and conserved in Shropshire. It will then be returned to Rutland where it will be put on display for the public to view. Until then, pictures of the fossil can be seen here.