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New prehistoric ‘sea dragon’ with ‘hundreds of teeth’ discovered on UK coastline
December 9, 2020
A fossil hunter has discovered a new type of prehistoric "sea dragon" buried in limestone on the UK coastline.
Dr Steve Etches, who collects fossils, found the new two-metre-long ichthyosaur on a beach in Dorset.
Ichthyosaurs are a type of prehistoric creature and are called sea dragons because they tend to have very large teeth and eyes.
After noticing the creature's unusual teeth, he passed the fossil on to experts at the University of Portsmouth to properly identify.
Megan Jacobs, who has spent several years working on ichthyosaurs, identified the fossil as a new genus and species which lived 150 million years ago.
The discovery is the UK's fifth known ichthyosaur from the Late Jurassic period and by far the smallest so far.
Ms Jacobs said: "Skeletons of Late Jurassic ichthyosaurs in the UK are extremely rare, so, after doing some research, comparing it with those known from other Late Jurassic deposits around the world and not being able to find a match was very exciting.
"Thalassodraco etchesi is a beautifully preserved ichthyosaur, with soft tissue preservation making it all the more interesting.
"Steve's incredible collection contains many new and exciting animals and being given the chance to describe this ichthyosaur was a real privilege."
Ichthyosaurs were highly adapted marine predators, with a streamlined body for gliding through the water, large eyes for enhanced vision, and elongated jaws full of conical teeth, well-suited for catching slippery fish and squid.
The newly-discovered species has a deep ribcage, small forelimbs and hundreds of tiny, delicate, smooth teeth.
This fossil is now on display at Mr Etches fossil museum in Dorset, called the Etches Collection, which he built to house the many discoveries he's made over a lifetime of fossil hunting.
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Dr Etches said: "I'm very pleased that this ichthyosaur has been found to be new to science, and I'm very honoured for it to be named after me.
"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."