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Giant 180 million-year-old ‘sea dragon’ fossil found in UK reservoir

A 33ft long fossil of an ichthyosaur, the largest UK example of a predator that roamed the seas at the time of the dinosaurs, has been uncovered at an English nature reserve.

This dragon is the biggest, most complete fossil of its kind found in the UK. It is also thought to be the first ichthyosaur of its specific species (Temnodontosaurus trigonodon) found in the country.

When lifted for conservation and study, the block containing the 6ft (2m) skull and surrounding clay alone weighed a tonne. In February 2021, Joe Davis, conservation team leader at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, discovered a dragon during the routine draining of a lagoon island for re-landscaping.

Mr. Davis said: “The find has been fascinating and a real career highlight. It’s great to learn so much from the discovery of this dragon and to think that this living fossil swam in seas above us.
“Now, once again, Rutland Water is a haven for wetland wildlife, albeit on a smaller scale.”

Dr. Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, has studied thousands of ichthyosaurs and head the excavation team. He said: “It was an honor to lead the excavation. Britain is the birthplace of ichthyosaurs – their fossils have been unearthed here for over 200 years.

“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British palaeontological history,” Dr. David Norman, curator of dinosaurs at London’s Natural History Museum, said in a written statement.

The fossil is currently being studied and conserved at an undisclosed location in Shropshire, but it is expected to be returned to Rutland for permanent display. The remains of this dragon will feature on BBC Two’s Digging for Britain on Tuesday at 20:00 GMT before being made available on BBC iPlayer.