Prehistoric Leviathan: Family’s Beach Day Leads to Monumental Ichthyosaur Discovery

The serene shores of Somerset, England, are once again at the center of a paleontological breakthrough. A jaw-dropping find—a jawbone over two meters long, belonging to a previously unknown species of ichthyosaur—has the scientific community buzzing with excitement.

Dubbed Ichthyotitan severnensis or “giant fish lizard of the Severn,” this marine behemoth is estimated to have been as colossal as a blue whale, stretching over 25 meters long.

A Family Affair: Discovery by Chance

The tale of this remarkable discovery begins with a family outing that turned into a scientific expedition. Ruby Reynolds, a sharp-eyed 11-year-old, and her father, Justin, stumbled upon the first fragments of the giant bone while fossil hunting on the beach at Blue Anchor in May 2020.

Recognizing the significance of their find, they contacted Dr. Dean Lomax, a leading ichthyosaur expert from the University of Bristol. Dr. Lomax, in turn, reached out to Paul de la Salle, who had discovered a similar giant jawbone in 2016.

Together, they unearthed additional pieces, assembling a prehistoric puzzle that would lead to the identification of a new species.

The Significance of the Find

This discovery is not just about adding a new species to the scientific records; it challenges our understanding of marine life in the Triassic period.

The jawbones of Ichthyotitan provide hard evidence of giant ichthyosaurs swimming in the prehistoric oceans about 202 million years ago, just before a global mass extinction event wiped them from existence.

These giants roamed the seas at a time when dinosaurs were beginning to dominate the land, painting a picture of a world vastly different from our own.

The Science Behind the Bones

The research team, which includes experts from the University of Bristol and the University of Bonn, has employed advanced techniques to analyze the fossils.

Marcello Perillo, a master’s student involved in the study, took core samples that confirmed the ichthyosaur origin of the bones and suggested that the creature was still growing at the time of its death.

This hints at unknown biological strategies that may have allowed these giant creatures to reach such massive sizes.

Dinosaur bones discovered in Somerset, England - 'Largest Reptile Ever' Ichthysoaur Discovery On Family Beach Day
Part of the research team in 2020 examining the initial finds (back) of the new discovery made by Ruby and Justin Reynolds. Additional sections of the bone were subsequently discovered. From left to right, Dr Dean Lomax, Ruby Reynolds, Justin Reynolds and Paul de la Salle. | Dr Dean Lomax

A Community Effort

The discovery of Ichthyotitan severnensis has been a community effort, highlighting the importance of amateur fossil hunters in the field of paleontology. Ruby Reynolds, now a published young scientist, expressed her excitement and pride in contributing to such a significant scientific discovery.

Her story is reminiscent of Mary Anning, the famous fossil collector who made numerous significant contributions to paleontology in the 19th century.

Exhibiting History

The bones of Ichthyotitan are set to be displayed at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, bringing the story of these magnificent creatures to the public.

This exhibition will not only showcase the jawbones but also feature scaled 3D replicas, created by Jimmy Waldron of the DWABA museum in Orlando, Florida, allowing people around the world to marvel at the size and scale of these prehistoric giants.

Ichthyotitan bones - 'Largest Reptile Ever' Ichthysoaur Discovery On Family Beach Day
Photograph of the nearly complete giant jawbone found at Blue Anchor and the 2018 bone found by Paul de la Salle (middle and bottom). | Dr Dean Lomax

Reflections on a Giant

The story of Ichthyotitan severnensis is more than a tale of discovery. It is a testament to the enduring curiosity of humans, the thrill of discovery, and the never-ending quest to understand our planet’s ancient past.

As these giants once dominated the seas, their fossils now beckon us to explore and appreciate the complex history of life on Earth.

It reminds us that each fossil holds a story, a glimpse into an era where the world was a vastly different place, encouraging us to keep looking, learning, and wondering about the great unknown.