London, Feb 19: A new type of ichthyosaur, an extinct marine reptile which was alive at the same time as the dinosaurs, has been identified from a fossil which had been in the collections of Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery in Britain for more than 30 years.
Similar-shaped to dolphins and sharks, ichthyosaurs, which are often misidentified as "swimming dinosaurs" and also referred as "sea monsters", swam the seas of the earth for millions of years during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, before being wiped out.
The new Doncaster ichthyosaur species is between 189 and 182 million years old, from a time in the early Jurassic period called the Pliensbachian. It is the world's most complete ichthyosaur of this age, the researchers noted.
"The recognition of this new species is very important for our understanding of ichthyosaur species diversity during the early Jurassic," said Dean Lomax (25) palaeontologist and Honorary Scientist at The University of Manchester.
The new species has been named Ichthyosaurus anningae in honour of the British collector, and woman in science, Mary Anning, who first collected ichthyosaurs in the early 1800s.
It is the first new Ichthyosaurus identified for almost 130 years.
Dean first examined the fossil in 2008 when he noticed several abnormalities in the bone structure which made him think he had something previously unidentified.
"After examining the specimen extensively, we identified several unusual features of the limb bones (humerus and femur) that were completely different to any other ichthyosaur known," Dean noted.
"This discovery shows that new species, and not only ichthyosaurs, are awaiting discovery in museum collections. Not all new discoveries are made in the field," Dean added.
The study appeared in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.