202-Million-Year-Old Ichthyosaur the Size of a Blue Whale May the World’s Largest Marine Reptile

Ichthyosaur Severnensis

The Ichthyosaur Severnensis depicted by an artist as it may have looked. (Photo: Gabriel Ugueto)

Today, the blue whale is the king of the oceans, measuring nose to tail about 88 feet long and weighing over 200 pounds. These giants of the waves are the largest creatures on Earth, land or sea. The history of how creatures can grow so large is written in the famous colossal dinosaurs. Prehistoric giants tell us a lot about the evolution of large life, as a new discovery demonstrates. Fossilized jawbones found in the UK shed light on a newly discovered prehistoric species of marine reptile, the Ichthyotitan severnensis. Described in PLOS One, it likely stretched about 82 feet in length, making it the largest known marine reptile.

In 2020, Justin Reynolds and his 11-year-old daughter Ruby were searching for fossils in Somerset when they discovered pieces of ancient bone. They contacted Dr. Dean Lomax, a paleontologist, to assess these finds. As it turned out, similar fossils were discovered in 2016 by Paul de la Salle. With two enormous jaw bones now before them, Lomax, de la Salle, and their team realized they had found a new species of ichthyosaur. Greek for “fish lizard,” ichthyosaurs are an order of prehistoric sea creatures with giant jaws and powerful tails for swimming.

This particular new species swam the seas near what is now the UK about 202 million years ago, during the late Triassic Period. Its new scientific name means “giant fish lizard of the Severn.” It is possibly the most massive species of ichthyosaur discovered thus far, and it lived just before a mass extinction that drastically changed life on Earth.

Lomax said in a statement, “This research has been ongoing for almost eight years. It is quite remarkable to think that gigantic, blue whale-sized ichthyosaurs were swimming in the oceans around what was the UK during the Triassic Period. These jawbones provide tantalizing evidence that perhaps one day, a complete skull or skeleton of one of these giants might be found. You never know.”

Even cooler, Ruby is now a published scientist at age 15 due to her and her dad's amazing discovery.

The prehistoric Ichthyotitan severnensis, a newly discovered species stretching a massive 82 feet long, is the longest marine reptile.

h/t: [IFL Science]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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