New species of ichthyosaur found in museum archive
A fossil spent 30 years stored away in a South Yorkshire museum, believed to be a plaster replica and forgotten, until it caught the eye of a young paleontologist working in the museum’s collections, who has now identified it as a new species of prehistoric marine reptile.
Dean Lomax, 25, determined the fossil to be 189 million years old, the remains of a species of ichthyosaurus, a carnivorous seagoing reptile shaped like a dolphin.
Lomax published his findings in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
So well preserved was this Jurassic mummy at the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, that Lomax was able to see the inside of its stomach, where they found the hook shaped remains of a squid, the entree of its last meal.
Lomax worked on the project alongside Judy Massare, from the State University of New York, comparing their specimen’s skeleton to those of nearly 1,000 different ichthyosaur specimens kept in museums throughout the US and Europe.
Several features on his specimen’s fin bones set the animal apart from its Jurassic cousins. Ichthyosaur remains actually appear quite often in Great Britain, where it filled the seas in sufficient numbers in the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. They became extinct some time in the Late Cretaceous period 70 million years ago, before the extinction of the last dinosaurs. Mary Anning, a seashell collector and amateur fossil hunter, found the first one back in 1811, and Lomax’s specimen is named Ichtyhosaur annigae in her honor.
How Lomax’s specimen got mistaken for a copy is unclear, as it was particular specimen was found on the coast of Dorset back in the early 1980s and presented to the museum.
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