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Giant 180-million-year-old ‘sea dragon’ fossil found in UK reservoir

A 33-foot-long ichthyosaur fossil, the biggest in the UK of a predator that roamed the waters during the dinosaur era, has been discovered in an English nature reserve.

Giant 180-million-year-old ‘sea dragon’ fossil found in UK reservoir 1
Palaeontologist Dr Dean Lomax (being used for scale) said it was an honour to lead the excavation. © Image Credit: Anglian Water

This dragon is the largest and most complete fossil of its kind discovered in the United Kingdom. It is also likely to be the country’s first ichthyosaur of its specific species (Temnodontosaurus trigonodon). The block carrying the 6ft (2m) cranium and surrounding clay alone weighed a tonne when raised for conservation and examination.

Joe Davis, conservation team leader of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, spotted this dragon in February 2021 while emptying a lagoon island for re-landscaping.

Mr. Davis said: “A colleague of mine and I were walking along and I looked down and saw this series of ridges in the mud.”

“There was something there that was different ― it had organic features where it connects to the rib. That’s when we thought we needed to call someone and find out what’s happening.”

“It turned out to be very well preserved ― better than I think we all could have imagined really.”

He further said: “The find has been fascinating and a real career highlight. It’s great to learn so much from the discovery of this dragon and to think that this living fossil swam in seas above us. Now, once again, Rutland Water is a haven for wetland wildlife, albeit on a smaller scale.”

Dr. Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, led the excavation team and has researched hundreds of ichthyosaurs. He said: “It was an honor to lead the excavation. Ichthyosaurs were born in Britain, and their fossils have been discovered here for over 200 years.”

Giant 180-million-year-old ‘sea dragon’ fossil found in UK reservoir 2
One of the fossil’s flippers can be seen here being excavated. © Image Credit: Anglian Water

“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history,” Dr. David Norman, curator of dinosaurs at London’s Natural History Museum, said in a written statement.

The fossil is now being investigated and protected in Shropshire, but it is likely to be restored to Rutland for permanent display.