Largest ‘Sea Dragon’ ever to swim in British waters discovered

Palaeontologists have discovered one of the greatest finds of the 21st century in the UK — a giant sea dragon. It is the biggest and most complete skeleton of its kind found to date in the UK, and is believed to be the first ichthyosaur of its species.

Rutland Water Conservation Team Leader, during the routine draining of a lagoon island for re-landscaping in February last year.

According to Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, Joe Davis and Reserves Officer Paul Trevor set off across the lagoon when Joe noticed what looked like clay pipes sticking up out of the mud.

“They looked organic. I worked out on the Hebrides, so I’ve found whale and dolphin skeletons before. This appeared similar and I remarked to Paul that they looked like vertebrae. We followed what indisputably looked like a spine and Paul discovered something further along that could have been a jawbone. We couldn’t quite believe it,” Joe Davis said.The remains were fully excavated early last year. (Photo: Anglian Water/PA)

Dated to be at least 180 million years old, the skeleton is around 10 meters in length with a skull weighing approximately one ton, paleontologists have dubbed it the most complete large ichthyosaur ever found in Britain.

Ichthyosaurs first appeared around 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago. An extraordinary group of marine reptiles, these animals varied in size from 1 to more than 25 meters in length and resembled dolphins in general body shape. Due to their massive teeth and eyes, they are called sea dragons.

The discovery is not the first at the Anglian Water reservoir, with two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs found during the initial construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s. It is, however, the first complete skeleton to be discovered there. Calling it a career highlight, Joe Davis further said that it’s great to learn so much from the discovery and to think that this amazing creature was once swimming in the seas above us.

The remains were excavated during August and September by a team of expert palaeontologists assembled from around the UK. “It was an honour to lead the excavation. Britain is the birthplace of ichthyosaurs their fossils have been unearthed here for over 200 years, with the first scientific dating back to Mary Anning and her discoveries along the Jurassic Coast. 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 led the excavation, said.

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