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Scientists have discovered an ancient 82-foot-long 'giant fish lizard' in the UK

Scientists have discovered an ancient 82-foot-long 'giant fish lizard' in the UK

A second two-metre-long ichthyosaur jawbone, discovered in Somerset, UK, has revealed a new giant species, called Ichthyotitan severnensis, dating back 202 million years, adding important insight into the giants of the Triassic sea. washed Ichthyotitan severensis A dead body on the beach. Credit: Sergey Krasovsky, CC-BY 4.0

The fossilized remains of another giant jawbone measuring more than two meters long have been found on a beach in Somerset, UK.

Experts determined that the bones belonged to new jaws Classify A huge ichthyosaur, a type of prehistoric marine reptile. It is estimated that the oceanic giant would have been more than 25 meters (82 ft) long.

Father and daughter Justin and Ruby Reynolds from Braunton, Devon, found the first pieces of a second jawbone found in May 2020, while searching for fossils on the beach at Blue Anchor, Somerset. Ruby, then 11, found the first piece of the giant bone before searching together for additional pieces.

Jawbone comparison Ichthyotitan severnensis

An image of the giant's nearly complete jawbone, along with a comparison with the 2018 bone (middle and lower) found by Paul de La Salle. Credit: Dr. Dean Lomax

Realizing they had discovered something important, they contacted the leading ichthyosaur expert, Dr Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester. Dr Lomax, who is also a Research Fellow at the University of 1851 University of BristolI contacted Paul de La Salle, an experienced fossil collector who found the first giant jawbone in May 2016 from further along the coast at Lilystock.

Excitement and more discoveries

Dr Dean Lomax said: “I was astounded by this discovery. In 2018, my team (including Paul de La Salle) studied and described Paul's giant jawbone, and we hoped another bone would one day come to light. This new specimen is more complete.” “And it's better preserved, and it shows that we now have two of these giant bones — called rectangular bones — that have a unique shape and structure. I'm very excited, to say the least.”

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Justin and Robbie, along with Paul, Dr. Lomax and several family members, visited the site to search for more pieces of this rare find. Over time, the team found additional pieces of the same jaw that fit together perfectly, like a jigsaw puzzle millions of years old.

“When Robbie and I found the first two pieces, we were so excited because we realized this was something important and unusual,” Justin said. “When I found the back of the jaw, I was thrilled because this is one of the iconic parts of Paul’s early discovery.

Giant pair of swimming Ichthyotitan severnensis

Giant pair of swimmers Ichthyotitan severensis. Credit: Gabriel Oguito, CC-BY 4.0

The last piece of bone was recovered in October 2022.

The research team, led by Dr Lomax, revealed that the jaw bones belonged to a new species of giant ichthyosaur that would have been the size of a blue whale. Comparing two examples of the same bone with the same unique features from the same geological time zone supports their identification.

The team has named the new genus and species Ichthyotitan severensiswhich means “giant Severn fish lizard.”

Historical context and significance

The bones are about 202 million years old, dating from the end of the Stone Age Triassic A period in time known as the Rhaetian. During this time, giant ichthyosaurs swam the seas while dinosaurs walked the land. However, this was the final chapter of the giants' lives, and the story told in the rocks above these fossils records a catastrophe known as the Late Triassic Global Mass Extinction Event. After this time, giant ichthyosaurs from the family known as Shastasauridae became extinct. Today, these bones represent the last of their kind.

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Ichthyotetan It's not the world's first giant ichthyosaur, but de la Sales and Reynolds' discoveries are unique among those known to science. These bones appear approximately 13 million years after their most recent geological relatives, including… Schonisaurus sikanensis From British Columbia, Canada, and Himalayasaurus of Tibet From Tibet, China.

Dean Lomax, Robbie Reynolds, Justin Reynolds and Paul De La Salle

Part of the research team in 2020 examining the preliminary findings (back) of the new discovery made by Robbie and Justin Reynolds. Additional fragments of bone were later discovered. From left to right, Dr. Dean Lomax, Robbie Reynolds, Justin Reynolds, and Paul De La Salle. Credit: Dr. Dean Lomax

Dr Lomax added: “I was very impressed that Robbie and Justin correctly identified this find as another huge jawbone from an ichthyosaur. They realized it matched the one we described in 2018. I asked them if they would like to join my team to study and describe this fossil, including In naming it, they jumped at the chance. For Ruby, in particular, she's now a published scientist who not only discovered, but also helped name, a species of giant prehistoric reptile that perhaps not many 15-year-olds can Say so! Mary Anning might be under construction.'

Ruby said: “It was amazing to discover part of this giant ichthyosaur. I am very proud to have played a part in a scientific discovery like this.

Further examination of the internal structures of the bones was carried out by master's student Marcelo Perello from the University of Bonn, Germany. His work confirmed the origin of the ichthyosaur bones, revealing that the animal was still growing at the time of death.

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He said: “We can confirm the unique set of histological features typical of the lower jaw of a giant ichthyosaur: the anomalous periosteal growth of these bones indicates bone growth strategies that are not yet understood, now lost in deep time, and which likely allowed Late Triassic ichthyosaurs to reach the limits of known biological Vertebrates according to size. Much is still shrouded in mystery about these giants, but one fossil at a time we will be able to uncover their secret.

Concluding the work, Paul de La Salle added: “The belief that my discovery in 2016 will spark so much interest in these enormous creatures fills me with joy. When I found the first jawbone, I knew it was something special. To have a second one that confirms our findings is incredible.” . I am very happy.”

Robbie, Justine and Paul's discoveries will soon be on display at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

“This research has been ongoing for almost eight years,” Lomax said. “It is extremely remarkable to think that giant ichthyosaurs the size of a blue whale were swimming in the oceans surrounding what was the United Kingdom during the Triassic. These jaw bones provide tantalizing evidence that perhaps One day you will find a complete skull or skeleton of one of these giants, you never know.

Reference: “The Last of the Giants: New Evidence for Giant Ichthyosaurs from the Late Triassic (Rhaetian) of the United Kingdom” by Dean R. Lomax, Paul De La Salle, Marcelo Perillo, Justin Reynolds, Robbie Reynolds, and James F. Waldron, April 17, 2024, One plus.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0300289