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Ancient ichthyosaur discovered on a British beach may be the largest marine reptile ever

Ancient ichthyosaur discovered on a British beach may be the largest marine reptile ever

 


Illustration of an Ichthyotitan severnensis corpse washed up on a beach.

Sergei Krasovsky

The fossil remains of a 200-million-year-old ancient ichthyosaur unearthed from a beach in southwestern England may be part of the largest marine reptile ever discovered.

In 2020, amateur fossil hunters stumbled upon a huge chunk of bone at Blue Anchor Beach in Somerset. Upon further investigation, Dean Lomax and his colleagues at the University of Manchester, England, quickly realized that it was a fragment of the jawbone of a giant ichthyosaur, a type of reptile that roamed the seas between 250 and 90 million years ago.

Later excavations on the beach uncovered 11 more fragments, which allowed the team to partially fragment a bone at the back of the jaw called the surangular.

This latest discovery follows a 2018 report describing similar ichthyosaur jawbones found on other Somerset beaches. At the time, the team did not have enough evidence to determine the species.

It's pretty clear this is another one of these giant jawbones, says Lomax. So I was very, very excited.

After comparing the partial yellow shark with the complete body of another ichthyosaur, the team estimated that the entire bone was at least 2 meters long, putting the animal's body length at around 20 to 25 meters.

“We are dealing with something truly enormous,” says Lomax. It certainly represents the largest officially described marine reptile.

The yellow shark's characteristics, which match those reported in 2018, mean that both fossils must have belonged to a previously undescribed ichthyosaur species, Lomax says. The team named the animal Ichthyotitan severnensis, meaning giant fish lizard of the River Severn.

The remains date from about 202 million years ago, just before a global mass extinction event that wiped out many species, including many giant ichthyosaurs.

They are literally the last giants, says Lomax. No other ichthyosaur has ever come close to this size again.

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