Back to Lyme Regis – on the Hunt for Ichthyosaur Vertebrae

This weekend saw some of the Everything Dinosaur team members off to one of their favourite haunts, the fossil rich beaches of Lyme Regis and Charmouth on the hunt for more Lower Lias Jurassic fossils.  They were really lucky with the weather, the days preceding their trip were wet and miserable but they need not have worried.  The micro-climate of that part of the Dorset coast came to their rescue and they found themselves basking in temperatures in excess of 20 degrees Celsius. 

The trip coincided with the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival “Evolution Rocks”.  This festival is held over the Bank Holiday weekend in May and this year’s theme was naturally Darwin and Darwinism.  The UNESCO World Heritage coastline is a beautiful part of the world in which to explore evolution in action, the multitude of ammonites and other fossils that can be found on the beach make the area a magnet for fossil collectors.

Although, most of the time this weekend was spent on the beaches east of Lyme Regis (between Church Cliffs and Black Ven), Everything Dinosaur staff could not but help meeting friends in the town in the evening from the various institutions which were involved in the festival.

There were a number of organised fossil walks over the weekend with a number of local collectors and specialists taking parties out onto the beaches to search for fossils.  This is an excellent way for the uninitiated to learn more about the geology of this area and to find fossils of belemnites and ammonites on the beach.  With the guide’s local expertise and knowledge most people are able to find a fossil or two.

The Wonderful Jurassic Coast of Lyme Regis

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The picture shows the wonderful, but dangerous cliffs at Lyme Regis/Charmouth.  The area in the right of the picture is part of the 2008 landslip site, the worst landslip at Lyme Regis for 100 hundred years.

Our mission this weekend was to find some Ichthyosaur vertebrae, a number were picked up on the beaches east of Lyme Regis over the weekend, including one beautifully preserved neck vertebrae just a few feet from where we were looking.  It takes a while to get your eye in but with the help of a local guide most visitors to the area can take away their very own fossil.  For example, one lucky member of a guided tour found some coprolite (prehistoric poo).  This could have come from an Ichthyosaur or shark (there were fish scales in it), it is hard to identify what organism left this little package however, with a little bit of luck these are the sort of things that you can find when you scour the beaches.

Ichthyosaurs were a group of marine reptiles that were fully adapted to a life in the sea.  Although descended from reptiles that lived on land, these animals evolved streamlined bodies, powerful tails and flippers and were superbly adapted to a marine existence.  Known as “fish lizards”, Ichthyosaurs were a hugely successful group.  Originating in the mid Triassic these reptiles roamed the oceans of the world almost to the end of the Mesozoic.

An Illustration of a Typical Ichthyosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of an Ichthyosaur and dinosaur toys: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

With such a large number of people on the beach, somebody is bound to find something interesting.  The team members at Everything Dinosaur, tend to get out early (checking the tide times carefully of course).  Despite many hours carefully studying the beach, no Ichthyosaur vertebrae were found by members of the team.  However, they did find some lovely specimens of pyritised Promicroceras (a small ammonite, known by locals as a “Prom”).

Ah well, better luck next time.  Perhaps the best thing to do is to choose a day in the winter after a storm with a low tide in plenty of daylight so that fossil hunting can be carried out on a slightly less crowded beach.

The View of the Beach (Charmouth looking towards Lyme Regis)

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

With such beautiful Bank Holiday weather, the Everything Dinosaur team were never going to get the beach all to themselves. Sometimes, fossil hunting can be a very lonely experience, but on the Dorset coast in the lovely late Spring sunshine, this was certainly not the case.

For the first time visitor to the area taking part in an organised fossil walk is perhaps the best way to appreciate the geological importance of the area.  There are a number of excellent guides available, for example Brandon Lennon (professional fossil collector), take parties out daily on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays from Lyme Bay.  These trips take place for most of the tourist season and with Brandon’s expertise even the most inexperience fossil hunter is very likely to come away with their own little piece of Jurassic treasure.

Brandon Lennon’s Fossil Walks: Fossil Walks with Brandon Lennon

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