The 180-million-year-old skeleton of a Rutland sea dragon has been discovered in the U.K. It's being called one of the most important finds in British paleontological history.
The creature is an ichthyosaur, a large marine reptile. The skeleton measures around 32 feet long and the skull weighs approximately 1.1 tons, making it the largest and most complete fossil of its kind ever found in the UK.
It was found by chance by Joe Davis of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust during a routine draining of a lagoon island at Rutland Water reservoir in February 2021.
"A lot of people spend their careers looking for something like this. My kids have now named me Joe-rassic, that's quite amusing," said Leicestershire.
They were dubbed sea dragons due to their very large teeth and eyes. Their shape resembles that of a dolphin and they first appeared in our seas around 250 million years ago.
They varied in size from one to more than 82 feet in length, making them giants of the sea. Compare that to the largest animals on the planet, the Antarctic blue whales, which can reach up to 96 feet in lenght.
The species went extinct 90 million years ago
It is not the first ichthyosaur to be found at Rutland. Two smaller and incomplete fossils were discovered during the construction of the reservoir in the 1970s.
Nigel Larkin, a specialist paleontological conservator, says the creature has a lot more to tell us about its life.
"Great thing about this is we have maybe stomach contents as well, so we'll be able to look at the animals that it fed on," said Larkin. "If it was a female and if it was pregnant, because they gave birth to live young, there may be embryos inside it. So we'll find out a lot more about the life and times of these ichthyosaurs. But also, this is just a piece of the jigsaw in terms of what's happened in the past."
And after it has revealed its secrets, it is hoped that one day the Rutland sea dragon can go on public display.