The fossilized remains of a sea creature that lived approximately 180 million years ago during the Jurassic Period was discovered by nature reserve workers in the U.K.
In the Rutland Water Nature Reserve near Leicester, the workers found a 32-foot skeleton of an ichthyosaur, which is known informally as a “sea dragon.”
The Leicester and Rutland Wildlife Trust said Monday that the fossilized remains comprise the “biggest and most complete skeleton of its kind found to date in the U.K.”
Rutland Water Conservation team leader Joe Davis discovered the skeleton last year during a routine draining of the lagoon island for re-landscaping. Davis originally thought that it was organic “clay pipes” sticking out of the mud, but he and Reserves Officer Paul Trevor saw that they looked more like vertebrae upon closer inspection.
According to Wildlife Trust, Davis said, “We followed what indisputably looked like a spine and Paul discovered something further along that could have been a jawbone. I couldn’t quite believe it.”
The ichthyosaur first appeared approximately 250 million years ago and went extinct about 90 million years ago. It resembled a dolphin in appearance, ranged from 3 to 82 feet in length and was an apex predator, meaning that it was on top of the food chain.
Paleontologists excavated the skeleton between August and September 2021. It is believed to be the first ichthyosaur of its species, Temnodontosaurus triconodon, found in the U.K.
The skeleton is currently being studied and conserved in Shropshire and will eventually be returned to Rutland to be displayed permanently. Academic papers will be published in the future as well, Wildlife Trust reports.
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