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Dinosaur hunters find 180-million-year-old 'sea dragon' skeleton with one-tonne skull

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Dinosaur hunters find 180-million-year-old 'sea dragon' skeleton with one-tonne skull

The scientists are now celebrating what they are describing as one of the “greatest finds” in British paleontological history after the prehistoric remains were discovered in the Midlands

Dinosaur hunters have found an ancient “sea dragon” - in the Midlands.

The scientists are now celebrating what they are describing as one of the “greatest finds” in British palaeontological history after the prehistoric remains were discovered.


The ichthyosaur, approximately 180 million years old with a skeleton measuring around 10 metres in length and a skull weighing approximately one tonne, is the largest and most complete fossil of its kind ever found in the UK.

It was discovered by Joe Davis of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust during a routine draining of a lagoon island at Rutland Water in February 2021.

The first ichthyosaurs, which are called sea dragons because they tend to have very large teeth and eyes, were discovered by fossil hunter and palaeontologist Mary Anning in the early 19th century.

Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist who has studied the species, said: “Despite the many ichthyosaur fossils found in Britain, it is remarkable to think that the Rutland ichthyosaur is the largest skeleton ever found in the UK.

Anglian Water/PA Wire of the fossil

The largest fossilised remains of a prehistoric "sea dragon" were discovered in the Midlands 

“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British paleontological history.”

Two incomplete and much smaller ichthyosaurs were found during the initial construction of Rutland Water in the 1970s.

But the latest discovery is the first complete skeleton.

Ichthyosaurus fact file

  • The Ichthyosaurus lived about 190 to 180 million years ago.
  • The first complete skeleton was discovered in England in 1811 by Mary Anning in Lyme Regis along the Jurassic Coast.
  • Scientists believe that it could have been present all over the waters around England and also the Atlantic Ocean.
  • It grew to an adult length of about 5.8 to 6 feet but certain Ichthyosaurs achieved body lengths as great as 30 feet.
  • Bob Nicholls/Anglian Water/PA Wire impression of the dinosaur
  • An artist impression of an ichthyosaur 
  • The Ichthyosaurus had large eyes in comparison to the size of the body, suggesting they hunted by sight even in dim waters or at night.

Dr Mark Evans of the British Antarctic Survey said: “I’ve been studying the Jurassic fossil reptiles of Rutland and Leicestershire for over 20 years.

“When I first saw the initial exposure of the specimen with Joe Davis I could tell that it was the largest ichthyosaur known from either county.

He added: “It’s a highly significant discovery both nationally and internationally but also of huge importance to the people of Rutland and the surrounding area.”

Nigel Larkin, a specialist palaeontological conservator, said: “It’s not often you are responsible for safely lifting a very important but very fragile fossil weighing that much.

“It is a responsibility, but I love a challenge. It was a very complex operation to uncover, record, and collect this important specimen safely.”

  • The excavation of the remains will feature on BBC Two’s Digging For Britain on Tuesday at 8pm 
Reference: Mirror: Adam Aspinall

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