Dean Lomax is seriously dedicated to ichthyosaurs and he’s kind of our hero for it.
So much so that he’s already discovered five different species, including further evidence of one newly-discovered species that’s been hiding out in one man’s private collection for the last 22 years.
The first Wahlisaurus massarae, named after his colleagues and mentors Bill Wahl and Professor Judy Massare, was discovered in 2016 when Lomax stumbled upon the skeleton in Leicester’s New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. After further examination, the University of Manchester palaeontologist noticed several unusual features of the bones that had never been seen before.
And just like that, a new species was discovered.
Sort of. The fossils of this Wahlisaurus were the first – and only – of this new species, and Lomax had some convincing to do.
“As a scientist you learn to question almost everything, and be as critical as you can be," said Lomax in a statement. "My analysis suggested it was something new, but some palaeontologists questioned this and said it was just 'variation' of an existing species."
And let’s be real, “Wahlisaurus” does sounds a bit like a comic book character.
That’s where Simon Carpenter comes in, who says the new specimen was found in a northern Somerset quarry and added to his collection in 1996.
Lomax teamed up with paleontologist and museum curator Dr Mark Evans to investigate the rare fossil. Dr Evans cleaned the bones, removed additional rock, and helped re-examine the original skull.
Alright, getting warmer.
It had an almost complete coracoid bone (a part of the pectoral girdle) that was only ever seen in Lomax’s Wahlisaurus. It suggests that Carpenter’s specimen is, in fact, a Wahlisaurus.
"The discovery of the new specimen in a private collection helps to recognize the important contribution of dedicated and responsible fossil collectors," said Lomax. "I am especially grateful to Simon for donating the specimen and collecting all of the data available with the specimen when he found it."
Carpenter promptly donated his Wahlisaurus to a museum.
Ichthyosaurs were around in the Triassic-Jurrasic boundary era right after the world-wide mass extinction, and estimates date them back about 200 million years ago. Fossils of the sea-going reptiles are found all over the UK. The dolphin-like swimmers actually appeared before the first dinosaurs emerged, evolving from a land animal that moved to the sea. A cruising speed of 35 kilometers per hour (22 miles per hour) puts them at the top of the food chain.
The coolest thing about these creatures is that scientists think they gave birth to live babies, not eggs.
The study was published in Geological Journal.