Ancient ‘Sea Dragon’ discovered on the Purbeck coastline

A Dorset fossil hunter has found the remains of a new type of prehistoric sea dragon on a Purbeck beach.

Well-known local collector, Steve Etches discovered the fossil of an ichthyosaur in limestone near Kimmeridge Bay.

Noticing it had unusual teeth, he handed it over to Portsmouth University, where masters student Megan Jacobs identified it as a new species of the ancient sea-dwellers.

Over many years Steve has gathered a rare collection of Late Jurassic age fossils and they are all now displayed in the purpose-built Etches Collection museum in Kimmeridge village.

Steve Etches at the Etches Collection in Kimmeridge
Etches Collection

Steve Etches at the Etches Collection in Kimmeridge with the Thalassodraco etchesi fossil

Etches Sea Dragon

Ichthyosaurs are known as sea dragons due to their large teeth and eyes, and thanks to this new discovery, Dorset’s own Steve Etches has a dragon named in his honour.

The newly discovered species is to be called the Thalassodraco etchesi – which means Etches Sea Dragon.

Steve Etches said: 

“I’m very pleased that this ichthyosaur has been found to be new to science, and I’m very honoured for it to be named after me. 

“It’s excellent that new species of ichthyosaurs are still being discovered, which shows just how diverse these incredible animals were in the Late Jurassic seas.” 

Mr Etches has previously been awarded an MBE for services to palaeontology and an honorary doctorate from the University of Southampton.

Outside the Etches Collection in Kimmeridge

The Etches Collection museum in Kimmeridge

About the ichthyosaur

Research around the discovery of the new ichthyosaur was published in the online PLOS ONE journal.

The Etches Sea Dragon is the fifth known UK ichthyosaur dating to the Late Jurassic period. At two metres long, it is also by far the smallest.

Megan Jacobs said: 

“Skeletons of Late Jurassic ichthyosaurs in the UK are extremely rare, so, after doing some research, comparing it with those known from other Late Jurassic deposits around the world, and not being able to find a match was very exciting.

“Thalassodraco etchesi is a beautifully preserved ichthyosaur, with soft tissue preservation making it all the more interesting.

“Steve’s incredible collection contains many new and exciting animals, and being given the chance to describe this ichthyosaur was a real privilege.”

Further information

Find out more about the Etches Collection here.

Share this story

Contact us

Do you have anything to add to this story?

We like to keep everything up-to-date, so if you know more, please help us by getting in touch.