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    The jaw bone of a giant ichthyosaur

    Giant Jaw Fossil Belonging to Ancient Sea Reptile Discovered on English Beach

    © REUTERS / Dean Lomax, The University of Manchester/Handout
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    A jawbone fossil recently discovered on a beach in Somerset, UK, by scientists, could have belonged to a 85-foot ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that existed in the Triassic Period more than 200 million years ago.

    According to scientists who published their findings in the PLOS journal on Monday, the bone, called a surangular, was likely part of the reptile's lower jaw. 

    The researchers predicted the reptile's length by comparing this surangular bone to the same bone in the largest ichthyosaur skeleton ever found, a 69-foot Shonisaurus sikanniensis discovered in British Columbia. The fossil found on the English shore could be the largest known fossil of an ichthyosaur ever discovered.

    "As the specimen is represented only by a large piece of jaw, it is difficult to provide a size estimate, but by using a simple scaling factor and comparing the same bone in S. sikanniensis, the Lilstock specimen is about 25 percent larger," Lomax explained.

    "This bone belonged to a giant" University of Manchester paleontologist Dean Lomax said, Reuters reported.

    "The largest reported ichthyosaurs lived during the Late Triassic (~235-200 million years ago), and isolated, fragmentary bones could be easily mistaken for those of dinosaurs because of their size," the study's abstract states. 

    In 1850, a large fossil from the Late Triassic period was found by scientists near Aust Cliff in Gloucestershire, UK. It was initially believed to belong to a giant dinosaur, although it was never positively identified. The discovery of the Somerset fossil suggests that the Aust bone could be another ichthyosaur surangular, Lomax wrote in a Monday press release.

    "One of the Aust bones might also be an ichthyosaur surangular. If it is, by comparison with the Lilstock specimen, it might represent a much larger animal. To verify these findings, we need a complete giant Triassic ichthyosaur from the UK — a lot easier said than done!" Lomax wrote.


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