Dec. 10 (UPI) — The remains of a new type of prehistoric ‘sea dragon’ have been discovered along the Dorset coast in southern Britain.
The so-called Etches sea dragon, a novel ichthyosaur, was found by amateur fossil collector Steve Etches.
A plumber by trade, Etches has become an expert on the fossils of the Kimmeridge Clay deposit, which houses the remains of a diversity of reptiles from the Late Jurassic, including sauropods, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs and ichthyosaurs
After finding the ichthyosaur, Etches noted that the reptile’s teeth were unusual and sought out identification assistance from researchers at the University of Portsmouth.
Graduate student Megan Jacobs was able to identify the ichthyosaur as belonging to a new genus and species.
The 150-million-year-old reptile, Thalassodraco etchesi, is the smallest of the now-five ichthyosaurs from Britain’s Late Jurassic period.
For comparison, the largest known ichthyosaurs, most of which have been recovered from Triassic deposits in North America, boast skulls measuring more than 16 feet in length. The skull of Thalassodraco etchesi stretches less than two feet in length.
Jacobs and research partner David Martill, professor of vertebrate paleontology at Portsmouth, described the new ichthyosaur species in a paper published this week in the journal PLOS One.
“Steve is an exceptional fossil collector and although he is sometimes referred to as an amateur collector, he has done so much for paleontology that he has been awarded an MBE [Most Excellent Order of the British Empire], and is truly a pro,” Martill said. “If it were not for collectors like Steve, scientists would have very few specimens to work on.”
Martill and Jacobs are currently working to analyze the new species’ physiology.
In addition to unique teeth, the ichthyosaur also boasts an odd rib cage and small flippers, suggesting its swimming motion may have differed from its closest relatives.
The fossil is currently on display at Etches’ museum, the Etches Collection, located in Dorset.
“I’m very pleased that this ichthyosaur has been found to be new to science, and I’m very honored for it to be named after me,” Etches said. “It’s excellent that new species of ichthyosaurs are still being discovered, which shows just how diverse these incredible animals were in the Late Jurassic seas.”
Ichthyosaurs, the remains of which have been found all over the world, were one of the most successful groups of marine reptiles, first appearing during the Triassic period, 248 million years ago.
Ichthyosaurs disappeared during Late Cretaceous, some 90 million years ago.