Yorkshire Ichthyosaur fossil was pregnant mum
A 180-million-year-old ichthyosaur from North Yorkshire was a pregnant mother, scientists have discovered.
Remains of between six and eight tiny embryos were identified huddled between the fossilised ribs of the Jurassic marine reptile.
The ichthyosaur specimen, found near Whitby in 2010 and housed at the Yorkshire Museum in York, was studied by experts from the University of Manchester.
Team member Dr Mike Boyd said: "We .. considered the possibility that the tiny remains could be stomach contents, although it seemed highly unlikely that an ichthyosaur would swallow six to eight aborted embryos or newborn ichthyosaurs at one time.
"This does not seem to have been the case, because the embryos display no erosion from stomach acids. Moreover, the embryos are not associated with any stomach contents commonly seen in early Jurassic ichthyosaurs."
Dolphin-like ichthyosaurs were meat-eating aquatic reptiles that dominated the Jurassic seas and gave birth to live young rather than laying eggs.
The creatures were common in the seas around the UK and many of their fossils have been found in British Jurassic rocks.
The Whitby specimen consists of a small boulder cut in half exposing several large adult ribs and several strings of vertebrae and tiny bones.
The scientists believe at least six embryos are present, but more probably eight.
The ichthyosaur is a star attraction at a major exhibition, Yorkshire's Jurassic World, which opened at the museum last month.
Eight different species of ichthyosaur have been found to contain embryos including more than 100 specimens from Germany. The number of embryos associated with a single mother ranges from one to 11.
Sarah King, curator of natural science at the Yorkshire Museum, said: "This is an incredible find .. Its display in Yorkshire's Jurassic World incorporates the latest digital technology to reveal the embryos and to explain the significance of the discovery. It also allows us to show a softer and more nurturing side to the sea dragons, which were the top marine predator of their time."
The discovery is reported in the journal Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society.