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Scenes from the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Photo by Darren Naish.

Over the last few days, I and my friends and colleagues from the University of Southampton’s vertebrate palaeontology research group visited Lyme Regis for the 2013 Fossil Festival, a big, fun event attended by 1000s of people and by most palaeontologically- and geologically-oriented people in the southern half of the UK. There are stalls and displays in a giant marquee, plus there’s the local museum (the Philpott), the many fossil shops, and the local coastline itself (even the local church tried to get in on the act, with its creationism-themed ‘Fossil and Flood Expo’, sigh). Purely for the hell of it, here are just a few images from the event. The photo above was taken at the Natural History Museum stall in the main marquee and shows the Baryonyx replica they had on display. I actually spent most of my time here learning about seaweeds and lichen… wow, lichens are ridiculous.

If you get bored with fossils there are always the awesome gulls to look at. Here’s a photo I took down on the shore of three Herring gulls Larus argentatus. Gulls were covered just the other day on Tet Zoo: check it out if you haven’t already. While we’re here: give up on the idea that gulls are evil vermin, here to eat your chips and spread disease. Actually, they need help and are in chronic decline. Anyway…

Photo by Darren Naish.

I liked this glass-coated ichthyosaur statue, placed on the beach outside the exit of the main marquee… As you can see from the reflections, it would make a great glitterball.

Photo by Darren Naish.

Wanna see more life-sized Mesozoic marine reptile replicas? Check out this giant, blue-green interactive pliosaur….

Photo by Darren Naish.

Yes, this is Horace the Travelling Pliosaur Cinema: an outdoor theatrical installation, accompanied by ‘palaeo-mechanic’ showman Dr Davidson and his dotty groom Jo (I know because I stole these words from the Horace website). Horace moves, opens his jaws, has giant cartoon eyes, and kids can go inside him and watch a movie!

The Weymouth Bay pliosaur, Dorset County Museum (Dorchester). Photo by Darren Naish.

He was devised in 2012 by visual theatre maker Sarah Butterworth, theatrical engineer Mike Pattison, and actor Peter Courtenay (the film that plays in his belly is by Forkbeard Fantasy); his creation was inspired by the incredible skull (2.4 m long) of the Weymouth Bay pliosaur, currently on display at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester and previously mentioned in this 2011 Tet Zoo article. Richard Forrest tells me that the long-awaited paper on the Weymouth Bay pliosaur is due to appear in PLoS ONE very soon (as in, in a few weeks).

Anyway, here’s another view of Horace. Here, children are encouraged to brush his teeth. I’m not sure if this is a message about oral hygiene, or if it teaches you something about sauropterygian dental anatomy…

Photo by Darren Naish.

You want real fossil marine reptiles? Plenty of those to see at the Lyme Regis Museum (formerly the Philpot Museum) and elsewhere, of course. I’ve featured some of the museum’s ichthyosaurs before [see this 2009 article], but here’s their new display: it features an awesome, recently discovered Temnodontosaurus skull (and paddle and vertebrae) as well as a new Ichthyosaurus specimen. We have quite a few ichthyosaur projects in the works at Southampton. Indeed, Jessica Lawrence Wujek and me used the event as a good excuse to collect data; we also hung out with the other ichthyosaur-jokeys on the scene: Aubrey Roberts from Oslo gave two talks on ichthyosaur and plesiosaur excavation on Spitsbergen, Sam Bennett discussed his PhD studies on ichthyosaur biology and life history, and Richard Edmonds spoke about his work on the extraction of local ichthyosaur discoveries.

Photo by Darren Naish.

We had a great time – well done to everyone involved, and let’s continue to celebrate and study our palaeontological heritage. If you’re one of those people who questions the value of this, remember that we can only understand the present and the future by studying the past. For previous Tet Zoo articles on Jurassic marine reptiles, see…

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. David Marjanović 9:28 am 05/6/2013

    wow, lichens are ridiculous.

    Details, please! :-)

    Link to this
  2. 2. vdinets 6:23 pm 05/6/2013

    What are these notches on the leading edge of the flipper on the last photo? Some cool hydrodynamic invention that nobody else got?

    Link to this
  3. 3. naishd 7:19 pm 05/6/2013

    lichens: I’ll let someone else elaborate. I knew the basics (the name ‘lichen’ is given to a non-monophyletic bunch of composite fungi-algae associations, some mutualistic, some commensalistic, some parasitic)…

    vdinets: excellent question. Notches along the leading edge of the forefin are ubiquitous in the set of ichthyosaurs that includes the shastasaurs and all of the more thunniform ones (the parvipelvians), though the notches are absent in ophthalmosaurids. There are even some taxa where notches are present on the trailing edge as well.

    As for what the notches are for… nobody has a clue! They can’t have served a hydrodynamic function, since they were deeply embedded in soft tissue and (so far as we know) don’t relate to anything on the outside of the paddle. The only suggestion I’ve seen is that they’re a developmental quirk, perhaps being homologous with the middle part of the ‘shaft’ of the respective bone. This is difficult to imagine, however, when some of the bones affected include carpals! I would dearly love it if they housed sensory structures of some sort, but this is a massive and unsubstantiated speculation.


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  4. 4. vdinets 8:51 pm 05/6/2013

    Darren: oh, so everybody is free to propose crazy theories? OK.

    1. They don’t have to relate to any grooves on skin surface to be hydrodynamic. In the area subjected to so much pressure, just creating differences in softness could conceivably produce interesting effects. Testing a bunch of real-size models would be the only way to find out.

    2. The notches look like there were some tendons or vessels crossing over from one side to the fin to the other through those notches. Was the bone structure completely rigid? In that case I would suggest liquid-filled sinuses between skin and bone on one or both surfaces of the fin, and a system of tubes connecting them, so that the liquid could be moved from the upper side to the underside and back, changing the hydrofoil shape. That would allow them to slowly change cruising depth with almost-zero extra energy spent.

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  5. 5. Richard Forrest 6:51 am 05/7/2013

    “Horace” the pliosaur:
    Public funding for the scientific research on the Weymouth Bay pliosaur: £0
    Public funding for an arts project based on that research:

    It’s a bit of a sore point.

    Link to this
  6. 6. naishd 8:41 am 05/7/2013

    Richard: ah. Don’t know what to say (though best to note that it’s not the fault of Horace’s creators that they got funding while you guys did not).


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  7. 7. Mark Evans 7:13 am 05/8/2013

    While it’s true that none of us received direct public funding for the research on the pliosaur, it’s worth noting that the purchase and preparation of the specimen were supported by public funding. Without that there wouldn’t have been much research.

    Link to this
  8. 8. David Marjanović 10:39 am 05/8/2013

    As for what the notches are for… nobody has a clue!

    Firmer attachment of the soft tissue, somehow?

    Link to this
  9. 9. Neil K. 12:36 pm 05/9/2013

    “Ichthyosaur-jokeys” is about right… :p

    Looks fun, I really have to find my way to the Jurassic Coast one of these days.

    Link to this
  10. 10. LeeB 1 9:55 pm 05/9/2013

    Talk about synchronicity.
    A paper just came out in the ‘firstview articles’ section of the Geological Magazine by Maxwell, Scheyer and Fowler called “An evolutionary and developmental perspective on the loss of regionalisation in the limbs of derived ichthyosaurs”.
    It finds the notches at the front of the bones of ichthyosaur paddles are homologous to long bone shafts.
    Unfortunately it isn’t open access but what it says in the abstract looks interesting.

    LeeB 1.

    Link to this
  11. 11. naishd 8:28 am 05/10/2013

    Thanks, LeeB1; will check it out. An ichthyosaur paper of my own comes out in a few days. Will be covered here.


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