Naturalists accidentally discover Britain’s largest near-complete marine reptile fossil | Smart News

University of Manchester paleontologist Joe Davis lies next to the 32-foot-long skeleton.
Matthew Power Photography through the University of Manchester

During routine maintenance at Rutland Water nature reserve in England, naturalist Joe Davis noticed something strange sticking out of the mud. At first, his colleague Paul Trevor, who also works at the reservation, thought it was a pipe. Upon closer inspection, they realized it was a large skeleton.

“We followed what unmistakably looked like a spine and Paul [Trevor] discovered something further away that could have been a jawbone,” said Davis, who is the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust conservation team leader. Live Scienceit’s Patrick Peter. “We couldn’t quite believe it.”

Davis took pictures of the bones and contacted paleontologist Dean Lomax at the University of Manchester.

“I immediately recognized them as ichthyosaur vertebrae,” says Lomax, who led the excavation project. New York Times‘Neil Vigdor. “He had found it so fortuitously.”

Davis had accidentally discovered the the largest and most complete ichthyosaur skeleton in the UK. It is over 32 feet long, with a 6.5 foot long skull that weighs around a ton.

“Finding a specimen of this size and this completeness is remarkable”, says paleontologist from the University of Liège Rebecca Bennion, who did not participate in the excavation. National Geographic’s Riley Black.

The ichthyosaur is a large marine reptile with paddle-like limbs and sharp teeth. It appeared on Earth about 250 million years ago and died out about 90 million years ago.

“During that period, he would have been right at the top of the food chain. It’s an apex predator, possibly one of the biggest sea animals in the world,” Lomax said. NBC News’ Rachel Elbaum.

Paleontologists estimate the one found at Rutland to be between 181.5 and 182 million years old.

The team began digging for the ichthyosaur in August 2021 and completed it in 14.5 days spread over 3 weeks. They used reinforced plaster with wooden frames to protect sections of the skeleton before lifting them.

“An important part of the excavations was to understand the ancient environment in which the ichthyosaur lived and died,” wrote Nigel Larkin, an independent paleontological curator who helped lead the excavations, in a blog post. “During the removal of clay from the bones, the team was careful to search for and collect additional fossils from the associated matrix, which included numerous molluscs, primarily ammonites and belemnites.”

Then the team will remove the plaster sheaths and prepare the specimen for research and display, which Larkin says could take another 18 months.

In one TweeterLomax, who has spent his career studying ichthyosaurs around the world, describes Rutland’s skeleton as “one of the greatest discoveries in British paleontological history”.

“It’s the peak of my career,” he says on BBC News. “It’s incredible.”

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