The fossilised skeleton of a 180-million-year-old “sea dragon” has been discovered in the Midlands.
Joe Davis, of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, unearthed the remains whilst draining a lagoon island at Rutland Water in February last year.
The Rutland ichthyosaur is believed to be 180 million years old and is the most complete and largest fossil of its kind eve to be found in the UK.
The skeleton measured approximately 10 metres in length, and its skull weighs one tonne.
Throughout August and September, expert palaeontologists dug the 10 metre skeleton out.
Dr Dean Lomax, a palaeontologist who has studied ichthyosaurs, 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.
“It is a truly unprecedented discovery and one of the greatest finds in British paleontological history.”
The species, known as sea dragons due to their enormous teeth and eyes, first appeared approximately 250-million-years-ago, and have been extinct for 90 million years.
Other ichthyosaurs have been discovered across the UK since the 1800s. In fact, two other much smaller and incomplete ichthyosaurs were found at Rutland Water in the 1970s.
Dr Mark Evans of the British Antarctic Survey said: “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.”
Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles, and varied in size from 1 metre, to over 25. The species resembled dolphins in their body shape and are believed to have lived in herds.
Nigel Larkin, a specialist paleontological 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 will feature on BBC Two’s Digging for Britain, which airs on Tuesday 11 January, at 8pm.
Originally published on Manchester Evening News.