Researchers from the University of Manchester have discovered two new species of British ichthyosaur, both hiding somewhat in plain sight.
Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles that lived during the dinosaur era and bore a resemblance to today's sharks and dolphins. Fierce predators in their day, they could grow to nearly 50 feet (15 meters) long. They thrived until going extinct some 90 million years ago, for reasons not yet certain, although competition and a changing climate have been posited in recent years.
In the first find, the scientists analyzed the complete skeleton of a 200-million-year-old ichthyosaur held for the better part of a century at the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences. Distinctive skull and fin features told them they were looking at a new species.
The remains were originally donated by Bristol's City Museum to the University of Bristol in 1930. Untold pairs of eyes have seen them since.
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"It's quite amazing," said Dean Lomax, study co-author and honorary scientist at the University of Manchester, in a statement. "Hundreds of people must walk past this skeleton every day, yet its secrets have only just been uncovered."
The specimen was first unearthed in Walton, Somerset, dated to a time when the United Kingdom was a group of small islands. The scientists have dubbed the new ocean hunter Ichthyosaurus larkini, for British paleontologist Nigel Larkin.
"The name Larkin actually means 'fierce' so it's quite fitting for a fast-moving predator," Lomax noted.
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In a second find, the researchers examined key fossil samples found in Glastonbury, Somerset that had been donated in 1847 to Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences, where they sat in storage.
That species has been named Ichthyosaurus somersetensis.
"In my opinion, this specimen is the best example of Ichthyosaurus collected to date," said Lomax. "It paints such a cool picture too, having been found in a quarry in the Somerset countryside, cleaned, and then sent by boat to Philadelphia, and only now for it to be rediscovered. It's like a good mystery book, piecing the story together."
"It is our hope that other-similar fossils will be found in uninspected collections and brought to the attention of paleontologists. Who knows what else is waiting to be rediscovered?" the researchers wrote.
The team's findings have been published in the journal Papers in Paleontology.
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