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Ichthyosaur search and ‘rescue’: rediscovering British ichthyosaurs in North American museums

June 15 , 2016

By Dean R. Lomax

About This Project

I am studying Ichthyosaurus specimens from the British Lower Jurassic. Historically, many ichthyosaur specimens from the UK were sold, traded and donated to various institutions in North America, and they have largely been missed by researchers who were unaware they existed. I intend to visit such institutions and study these specimens for the first time. In order to complete my studies on Ichthyosaurus I must examine these specimens in detail. Some likely represent new species.

What is the context of this research?

Ichthyosaurus was named in 1821 and was the first extinct marine reptile scientifically recognised. I have been studying and have written about Ichthyosaurus for several years.

Thousands of ichthyosaur fossils are stored in UK museums and range from isolated bones to complete specimens. Many have been examined and re-examined, but some have remained off the radar to researchers. For example, I rediscovered a specimen that was mistaken for a replica and which I subsequently identified as a new species in 2015 (see here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31521719). The species was named I. anningae. An unexpected find- "I mean, who would expect to find a new species of ichthyosaur from Charmouth, Dorset, in a small museum in South Yorkshire? I definitely did not."

What is the significance of this project?

Despite it being almost a century since the description of Ichthyosaurus specimens in North America have largely escaped study. Furthermore, the science has evolved so much that we now have a far greater understanding of ichthyosaur phylogenetics (how species relate to each other) and morphology (study of bones).

This project will enable me to complete my ongoing study revising the genus, something that has been required for a very long time. Some specimens have been examined by a colleague but in order to critically evaluate them we must examine and assess eachothers findings together – like good scientists should! I like to think that the discovery of I. anningae in 2015 epitomises this project.

What are the goals of the project?

The primary goal of this research project is to rescue (from obscurity) important specimens of Ichthyosaurus in North American institutions so they can be studied by researchers. By examining these specimens in person, and not through photographs, it will enable a thorough assessment of each individual. Having seen photographs of specimens it appears some are likely new species.

This study will first enable identification of scientifically important Ichthyosaurus specimens from the UK in North American institutions as well as the identification of potential new species. It will also enable the recognition of specimens of existing species and provide new morphological details on those species. Finally, it will allow for the examined specimens to be included as part of new scientific papers.




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