River reveals 'Jurassic dragon'

from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/7035202.stm

Oct 9, 2007

A fossil of a prehistoric sea monster has been found in a river

The fossil of a prehistoric sea monster that lived more than 144 million years ago has been found in a river on the edge of west Belfast.

Colin Glen could become known as Northern Ireland's Jurassic Park after the backbone of a plesiosaur was uncovered.

Such a find was a chance in a million said Paul Bennett, the educational ranger at the park

"The 7cm section of vertebrae was found at Colin River. It would have belonged to a creature known as a 'sea dragon' which was here in the Jurassic period when Ireland would have been down where the Sudan is and covered by seas," Mr Bennett said.

The plesiosaur had a round short body, four flippers, a short tail and a very long neck and small head.

Mr Bennett said the Colin River was rich in fossils and was of great geological interest.

He has found sharks' teeth and the fossil of an extinct marine reptile, an ichthyosaur at the site, in the past.

They had sharp teeth and snapping jaws, which set a deadly trap for small aquatic animals.

"When I found this, I hoped it would be the plesiosaur because that is like finding the Loch Ness monster," he said

"I've been told the reptile could have been about 20 metres long.

"This is very exciting, not just for me but for the people and the park."

Dr Michael Simms, a curator of palaeontology at the Ulster Museum, has examined the fossil and believes it could be 190 million years old.

"Pleiosaurs are very rare fossils and it is very lucky to find a single bone," he said.

Plesiosaurs were thought to have caught their prey by lashing out with their long necks and then snatching at victims with sharp teeth.

They were thought to be hunters of fish, squid and other free-swimming prey; but recent research has also indicated they would feed on bottom-dwelling animals such as clams and snails, too.