Giant 'sea dragon' fossil discovered in Rutland reservoir hailed as one of UK's greatest finds

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The fossilised remains of Britain’s largest 'sea dragon' have been discovered at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve.

The huge Ichthyosaur skeleton was found during some routine maintenance on the nature reserve, near Egleton, in Rutland.

Scientists are hailing it as one of the “greatest finds” in British palaeontological history.

Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that roamed the seas while dinosaurs walked on land.

It is thought to be the biggest and most complete skeleton of its kind found to date in the UK.

  • Watch how the Rutland 'sea dragon' was discovered:

It is also thought to be the first Ichthyosaur of its species (Temnodontosaurus trigonodon) found in the country.

The fossil is approximately 180-million years old, with a skeleton measuring around 10 metres in length and a skull weighing approximately one tonne. 

Ichthyosaurs first appeared around 250 million years ago and went extinct 90 million years ago. 

Ichthyosaurs are a specialized group of marine reptiles that lived in the water whilst dinosaurs walked on land. Credit: Anglian Water

They were an extraordinary group of marine reptiles that varied in size from 1 to more than 25 metres in length, and resembled dolphins in general body shape.  

The huge fossil was discovered by Joe Davis of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust during a routine draining of a lagoon island at Rutland Water in February last year

The discovery is not the first at Rutland Water, with two incomplete and much smaller Ichthyosaurs' found when they initially constructed the reservoir in the 1970s.

Palaeontologists work on the Ichthyosaur skeleton found at Rutland Nature Reserve. Credit: Anglian Water

Dr Mark Evans of the British Antarctic Survey said of the latest find: “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.

“However, it was only after our exploratory dig that we realised that it was practically complete to the tip of the tail.”

The reservoir where the huge fossil was uncovered. Credit: Anglian Water

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.

The fossil was first discovered at the site in February 2021. Credit: Anglian Water

“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 marine reptiles are called sea dragons because they tend to have very large teeth and eyes.

The first ichthyosaurs were discovered by fossil hunter and palaeontologist Mary Anning in the early 19th century.