Ichthyosaur Fossils Found in School Vegetable Patch

Many schools have set aside a small area of their grounds to act as a vegetable garden so that the pupils can have a go at growing their own fruit and vegetables.  Such a plot of land can permit teachers and teaching assistants to carry out all sorts of lesson extensions and these activities could inspire and encourage the next generation of gardeners.  However, for one school in Queensland (Australia), the digging of some post holes in their vegetable patch revealed the bones of an ancient marine reptile, not the sort of thing that schools encounter everyday.

Year 10 student Raymond Hodgson and groundsman Ben Smith were digging corner posts for a vegetable garden at the Richmond State School, in western Queensland, when they made the find.  This part of Queensland is known as the “dinosaur trail” as a number of important dinosaur and marine reptile fossil discoveries have been found in this area in recent years.  During the middle part of the Cretaceous, this part of what was to become Australia was covered by a warm, tropical sea that teemed with life including giant marine reptiles such as Ichthyosaurs (fish lizards) and Pliosaurs such as the giant predator Kronosaurus.

At first the student and the groundsman thought the hard lumps in the dirt were rocks but luckily Ben recognised them as bits of fossilised bone.

Paul Stumkat, the curator of local fossil museum Kronosaurus Korner, named after the huge Pliosaur whose fossils have been found in this part of Queensland, commented that the vegetable plot diggers had unearthed the fossilised vertebrae from an Ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that looked like a cross between a dolphin and a shark.

A Scale Drawing of the Marine Reptile Ichthyosaurus

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view more details of a model Ichthyosaurus and dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

Mr Stumkat said both men were pretty excited about the discovery.  He added:

“You never think about finding something like that when you’re digging your vegie garden do you?”

Mr Stumkat said the giant reptiles once ruled the inland sea that covered Richmond and were present in such prolific numbers they could be compared to the bison which dotted the grass plains of North America.

“They were just everywhere.  They were an incredibly successful group of marine reptiles that existed from the end of the Jurassic through to the early Cretaceous [periods].”

Raymond Hodgson and Groundsman Ben Smith Holding Fossil Vertebrae of the Ichthyosaur

Ichthyosaur fossils found

Picture Credit: Kronosaurus Korner: Paul Stumkat

The vertebrae of Ichthyosaurs are the backbones and tail bones of this marine reptile.  Ichthyosaur vertebrae are typically circular and dished in the centre (on both sides).

Mr Stumkat said Ichthyosaurs ate other sea creatures such as squid and fish.  He commented:

“We have amazing fossils up here that show teeth marks probably from Ichthyosaurs as well.  We’ve got a lovely fish head here on display that has a big bite mark on the side of its head which seems to line up with something like the teeth of an Ichthyosaur.”

Situated in what was the Cretaceous Inland Sea, the outback town is now the site of many significant fossil finds, including dinosaurs and giant marine reptiles.

The latest specimen is currently being prepared by Mr Stumkat and will eventually go on display at the school.  However, Mr Stumkat says the find has not stopped work on the school’s new vegetable garden, although the school children and staff have altered the way in which they work on the plot.

“They’re digging much more carefully now just in case they hit any more interesting rocks,” added Paul.

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