Rutland’s ichthyosaur and 4 other incredible British fossils


The UK’s largest ichthyosaur fossil was found in a reservoir in Rutland. The marine reptile is 10 meters long and weighs more than two tons.

Ichthyosaurs, which are not dinosaurs, are a group of extinct species that lived between 250 and 90 million years ago. Like whales and dolphins, their ancestors emerged from the water on land and returned later, which means ichthyosaurs breathed air. They lived both along the coasts and on the high seas and are said to be hot-blooded.

This specimen, a member of the species Temnodontosaurus trigonodon, was discovered by Joe Davis, head of the conservation team at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. The team was emptying an island from the lagoon to the reservoir, Rutland Water, for redevelopment in February 2021 when they found it. They also discovered several other fossils alongside it, including ammonites.

The fossil was excavated in August and September by a team led by ichthyosaur expert Dr. Dean Lomax and curator specializing in paleontology. Nigel Larkin. They locked him in plaster of Paris with wooden splints and took him out of the floor to be studied at a research center.

A BBC documentary episode Digging for Britain featuring Rutland’s ichthyosaur will be on BBC Two at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, January 11, and later on iPlayer.

4 more fantastic fossil finds from the UK

Swindon Mammoth Cemetery

The fortuitous find that uncovered a gigantic cemetery in Swindon and inspired Attenborough's new show © BBC / Windfall Films

© BBC / Windfall films

In 2017, amateur fossil hunters Sally and Neville Hollingworth discovered a treasure trove of mammoth bones and tusks at a site that was once the bed of the Thames. The find dates back hundreds of thousands of years and even contains a stone ax belonging to an ancient human.

The couple approached biologist Ben Garrod, who put together a team and approached Sir David Attenborough to investigate. BBC documentary Attenborough and the mammoth cemetery, available on iPlayer, follows the team as they dig through the quarry and ask what could have killed the mammoths.

the isle of wight T. rex relative

New dinosaur species discovered on the Isle of Wight (artist's impression of dinosaur dying moments c Trudie Wilson / PA)

Artist’s impression of the dinosaur’s last moments © Trudie Wilson / PA

A new species discovered on the Isle of Wight in 2019 was a dinosaur from the same family as T. rex, think paleontologists at the University of Southampton. The theropod species, which lived in the Cretaceous Period, is named Vectaerovenator inopinatus.

Four fossilized vertebrae, believed to have come from the same animal, were discovered in three weeks by amateur fossil hunters and returned to the Dinosaur Island Museum.

Isle of Skye Dinosaur Hotspot

The Isle of Skye was a mid-Jurassic dinosaur hotspot © Jon Hoad

The Isle of Skye was a mid-Jurassic dinosaur hotspot © Jon Hoad

In the Middle Jurassic, a group of dinosaurs walked through the mud on what we now call the Isle of Skye. Then, 170 million years later, a storm revealed some fifty preserved footprints. These include the Isle of Skye’s first example of a footprint most likely created by a Stegosaurian or flat-backed dinosaur.

Among the traces are those left by three-toed carnivores and those thought to be left by large herbivores.

Dorset ichthyosaur

Jurassic 'sea dragon' reptile discovered on a British beach © gan Jacobs / University of Portsmouth

Artist’s impression of the ichthyosaur © Megan Jacobs / University of Portsmouth

Another species of ichthyosaur was discovered on a Dorset beach by an amateur fossil hunter Dr Steve Etches. The species was called Thalassodraco etches, or Etches sea dragon. At only two meters long, it is by far the smallest specimen of ichthyosaur in the UK.

After the creature died, the front half of its body sank into the mud of the seabed, allowing it to be exceptionally preserved. Even some of its soft tissues remain.


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