UK’s largest ichthyosaur fossil was a 10-metre-long apex predator

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The largest ichthyosaur fossil ever found in the UK has been unearthed in the Rutland Water Nature Reserve

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Life 10 January 2022

Palaeontologists working on the Ichthyosaur

The ichthyosaur skeleton found at Rutland Water Nature Reserve

MATTHEW POWER PHOTOGRAPHY

Gigantic dolphin-like marine reptiles once swam the seas. Now, a near complete fossilised skeleton of a 180-million-year-old ichthyosaur that measured 10 metres in length has been discovered in the UK.

The fossil is the largest and most complete ichthyosaur skeleton unearthed in the UK. It was found in the Rutland Water Nature Reserve near Leicester.

Joe Davis at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust says he discovered the fossil by chance as he was working on landscaping the region. “I know lots of people have spent their lives looking for something like this and I’ve been very lucky to come across it,” he says.

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It is believed to be the first of its species, Temnodontosaurus trigonodon, to be found in the UK. Such fossils are typically found in North America and Germany.

The ichthyosaur was an apex predator. This species belonged to a group suggested to have had perhaps the largest eyes of any known vertebrate animal, some 20 centimetres in diameter.

“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history,” says Dean Lomax at the University of Manchester, who led the fossil’s excavation.

Mary Anning discovered the first ichthyosaur fossil in about 1811 in Lyme Regis in Dorset. The long-overlooked palaeontologist is soon to be recognised with a statue in the town.

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