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Kid Finds Giant Fossil

Eleven-year-old Ruby Reynolds discovered a fossil that turned out to be a new species.

A large, fossilized jawbone is against a white background.

Ruby Reynolds was 11 years old when she discovered this fossil of an ichthyosaur’s jawbone.

When Ruby Reynolds was 11, she came across something remarkable—pieces of a prehistoric creature’s jawbone. The discovery led scientists to identify a species they hadn’t known about before.

Ruby found the jawbone fragments in 2020 along the River Severn in southwestern England, where she was fossil hunting with her dad. The pair contacted paleontologist Dean Lomax and fossil hunter Paul de la Salle, who told them the pieces had been part of the jawbone of an ichthyosaur that lived more than 200 million years ago. Ichthyosaurs, which went extinct about 90 million years ago, were marine reptiles that looked a bit like dolphins. There were more than 100 species of ichthyosaur, ranging from just a few feet long to gigantic.

Illustration of a marine reptile with fins, a tail, and many teeth.

© Planetfelicity/Dreamstime.com

The species of ichthyosaur shown here is called Stenopterygius quadriscissus. This species was much smaller than the species Ruby discovered.

What Ruby found definitely belonged to something gigantic! Based on its huge jawbone, experts believe the ichthyosaur was about 82 feet (25 meters) long, the length of a blue whale. Amazingly, this ichthyosaur probably was still growing when it died.

A few years earlier, de la Salle had found a similar jawbone not far from where Ruby made her discovery. Since the jawbone de la Salle discovered was larger and had a different shape from other known ichthyosaurs, Lomax and de la Salle suspected it might belong to an unknown species. When Ruby found another one just like it, they had their answer. It was a new species!  Ruby and the scientists named it Ichthyotitan severnensis, which means “giant fish lizard of the Severn.”

“I didn’t realize when I first found the piece of ichthyosaur bone how important it was and what it would lead to,” Ruby Reynolds, now 15, told the New York Times. “You never know where a discovery may take you.”

The image below shows just how large Ichthyotitan severnensis was.

SlvrHwk/CC BY-SA 4.0

Ichthyotitan severnensis was much larger than a human.

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Fun Fact

Scientists believe that a blue whale may eat 10 to 20 tons of food a day, which would be like eating about 75,000 Big Macs!

A blue whale looks at several Big Macs and thinks “This isn’t even close to being enough.”

Blue whale: © Richard Carey/stock.adobe.com; Big Mac: © Dmitry Vereshchagin/stock.adobe.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Be a Fossil Hunter!

A girl kneels on a pebbly beach with some fossils sitting on large rocks and looks at a handful of pebbles and shells.

© mjowra/stock.adobe.com

Tons of living things roamed our planet long before humans existed. We know about them because of the fossils they left behind. As you can tell from the map below, dinosaur fossils have been unearthed all over the world—maybe even near you!

A world map shows the sites where dinosaur fossils have been found.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Have dinosaur fossils been found near you?

New fossils are being discovered all the time. Not all of them are from dinosaurs or ichthyosaurs. Some of them are from ancient leaves or insects. Finding any fossil is like finding a clue to the past. And the cool thing is, you can be a fossil hunter! If you’re interested in looking for fossils, here are some tips.

  • Never go fossil hunting alone. Always have an adult with you.
  • Don’t look for fossils on someone’s land unless you have permission.
  • Fossils are found in sedimentary rock. This type of rock is formed when tiny rocks and minerals get squashed together in layers. When plants and animals get trapped between these layers, they become fossils.
  • You can find sedimentary rock on cliffsides or riverbanks where it looks like layers of rock are stacked on top of each other like pieces of sandwich bread. 
  • You’ll have better luck if you look in places where other fossils have been found. With help from a teacher or another adult, you can look this up online.
  • Search for rocks that look like they have shells, leaves, or snails stamped into them. These are fossilized objects!

A Paleontology Pioneer

Mary Anning holds a digging tool and points to a fossil as she stands next to her dog.

© Science Source

The first known ichthyosaur fossil was discovered by Mary Anning. Born in 1799, Anning started hunting for fossils when she was a kid. You can read more about her at Britannica!

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Word of the Day

inquisitive

Part of speech:

adjective

Definition:

: tending to ask questions : having a desire to know or learn more

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