Palaeontologists have discovered the petrified bones of a gigantic Jurassic marine monster in the United Kingdom’s smallest county. The “palaeontological discovery of a lifetime,” according to the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, is a “particularly well-preserved” fossil discovered by researchers.
According to a wildlife trust notice, the fossil was discovered in February 2021 in the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in central England.
Joe Davis, a member of the trust’s water conservation team, discovered it during a normal draining operation for re-landscaping.
He initially assumed the bones were clay pipes protruding out of the mud, but “they appeared biological,” he stated in a statement. When he and a colleague came closer, they discovered “what unquestionably looked like a spine” as well as a jawbone at the spine’s end.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Davis said. “The discovery has been tremendously exciting and a career highlight. It’s exciting to learn so much from the find and to realize that this incredible creature was once swimming in the oceans above us.”
The fossil was discovered in August and September of this year and has subsequently been recognized as an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that looked similar to dolphins.
According to the experts, this specific fossil was discovered fully complete, is nearly 33 feet long, and is around 180 million years old. It has a cranium that is almost 6.5 feet long.
The fossil, according to Davis, was “extremely well-preserved, better than I believe we could have all expected.”
Dean Lomax, an ichthyosaur researcher who assisted with the investigation, described the find as the “biggest ichthyosaur skeleton ever unearthed in Britain.”
“These animals first appeared around 250 million years ago in a time called the Triassic period,” Lomax explained in a video for Rutland Water Nature Reserve. “Our specimen, the Rutland Ichthyosaur, or Rutland Sea Dragon, is the largest complete ichthyosaur ever discovered in Britain in over 200 years of scientific gathering, which is a remarkable accomplishment.”
He explained that ichthyosaurs were not swimming dinosaurs.
According to Anglian Water, which helps manage the reservoir where the fossil was discovered, ichthyosaurs of this size and completeness are “extremely rare,” particularly in the United Kingdom, with the majority of comparable examples located in Germany and North America.
Alicia Kearns, MP for Rutland Melton, said the finding “surpassed every reasonable anticipation.”
“It’s really awe-inspiring,” she remarked.
Despite being the biggest, this was not the first ichthyosaur fossil discovered in the reservoir. The Wildlife Trust stated that two partial and “far smaller” carcasses were discovered during the reservoir’s initial construction in the 1970s.
The palaeontologists working on the bones are continuing their investigation and writing an academic article about their results.