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New ichthyosaur species was hiding in plain sight for decades

Thousands of people must have walked past its display at the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences.

School of Earth Sciences collections manager Jonathan Hanson with Ichthyosaurus larkini.
The University of Bristol

New species of prehistoric beasties are identified fairly often. However, they're not always found under such circumstances as a new species of 200 million-year-old ichthyosaur at the University of Bristol. The specimen had actually been in the university's collection since 1930, what was a donation from the City Museum, which acquired the fossil in 1915.

"It's quite amazing -- hundreds of people must walk past this skeleton every day, yet its secrets have only just been uncovered," said Dean Lomax of the University of Manchester in a statement.

During a study of British ichthyosaurs, a kind of prehistoric marine reptile, the team identified features in the skull and fins of the specimen that distinguished it as a separate species.

"We've named the species Ichthyosaurus larkini in honour of the British palaeontologist Nigel Larkin -- the name Larkin actually means 'fierce' so it's quite fitting for a fast-moving predator," Lomax said.

Funnily enough, this isn't the first ichthyosaur found in such a manner. Earlier this year, Lomax identified another 200-million-year-old ichthyosaur that had been at Leicester's New Walk Museum since 1951.