A New Species Dubbed the Prehistoric ‘Sea Dragon’ Discovered in English Channel

A new, mysterious small marine reptile from 150 million years ago, known as the Thalassodraco etchesi or Etches sea dragon, was recently discovered in a Late Jurassic deep marine deposit along the English Channel coastline in Dorset, England.

As reported by SciTech Daily, this species may have been able to dive to extreme depths, and was determined to be part of the group known as the ichthyosaurs, which are “streamlined marine predators from the Late Jurassic period.”

“This ichthyosaur has several differences that makes it unique enough to be its own genus and species,” paleontologist Megan L. Jacobs said. “New Late Jurassic ichthyosaurs in the United Kingdom are extremely rare, as these creatures have been studied for 200 years. We knew it was new almost instantly, but it took about a year to make thorough comparisons with all other Late Jurassic ichthyosaurs to make certain our instincts were correct. It was very exciting to not be able to find a match.”

Illustration of Thalassodraco etchesi. Credit: Megan Jacobs

This specific specimen was discovered in 2009 and was estimated to have been about 6 feet long. It was discovered by fossil collector Steve Etches MBE after a “cliff crumbled along the seaside.”

It appears to have some similarities to sperm whales with its “extremely deep rib cage” that may have allowed for larger lungs and space so internal organs weren’t crushed under the pressure. It also had large eyes, which meant it could have been able to see well in low light.

Its hundreds of tiny teeth seem to indicate a diet that may have consisted of squid and small fish, and “the teeth are unique by being completely smooth.”

Photo of the sea dragon (Thalassodraco etches) fossil (MJML K1885). Credit: The Etches Collection, Dorset, UK

“They still had to breathe air at the surface and didn’t have scales,” Jacobs said. “There is hardly anything actually known about the biology of these animals. We can only make assumptions from the fossils we have, but there’s nothing like it around today. Eventually, to adapt to being fully aquatic, they no longer could go up onto land to lay eggs, so they evolved into bearing live young, tail first. There have been skeletons found with babies within the mother and also ones that were actually being born.”

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Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.

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