Deptford Rising: Cheddar’s prehistoric giant gullet

Image copyright PA Image caption David Clarke and James Melly discovered the fossils of the mammoth-like creatures at the Cheddar Gorge.

People who wish to drop a load of climate change references into their conversations need look no further than this prehistoric record of an Earth-destroying giant reptile.

A huge, winged reptile called a gajillion was roughly the size of a king penguin and weighed more than 600kg.

It was a member of the kraken family of ocean predators.

Like the fictional octopus-man of Jules Verne’s 19th-century novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, gajillion’s tentacles carried poison in its stomach and its hairy belly and fin made it an airborne hunter.

Image copyright PA Image caption The fossils were discovered at Cheddar Gorge in Dorset

A collection of the reptiles’ remains were discovered by scientists in 2007 in Cheddar Gorge in Dorset.

The skeletons – largely adult male – were in a pit and the study of the fossils from the site were invaluable to the scientists who were trying to determine whether the creatures were related to earlier kraken species.

The kraken of Verne’s story was an enormous sea monster described as the size of the megalodon – a prehistoric fish with a 43-foot (13m) long beak.

In the book, when half of a treacherous city in the fictional Antarctic was sunk beneath ice, a kraken glided silently over the surface of the glacier to pluck a missing cog.

Vinyl recording of the kraken apparently swimming, in Verne’s story, in a valley near the town of Scandipur’s

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Each kraken was described as about 40 feet (12m) long

The Gajillion specimens were in extremely good condition and scientists at the Natural History Museum in London were able to study their bodies and bones and reconstruct their girdle, where their armour was attached.

“If we had gone to the expert and tried to emulate that function, we could not do it,” said Professor David Clarke.

How it died

The body of a gajillion glowed and rained tiny pieces of amber, which preserved its blood and digestive system, suggesting it died in an unexpectedly short time.

“We don’t know if it was pretty hard or easy,” said James Melly, who worked on the excavation team.

“It is also unknown whether they were stranded on a seabed and drifting downriver or if they were floating independently in the briny sea.”

Image copyright Shutterstock Image caption A tableau on a museum table is described as being based on the skeleton, and includes three images from the newspaper Folio of the day

One possibility was that the creature was drenched with seawater when it was eaten by fish, and before it decomposed and decomposition happened.

The study of the remains – published in Science magazine – was a collaboration between scientists at the Natural History Museum, Cheddar Gorge and Sutton Coldfield Museums, South Staffordshire.

Images from local newspapers show how the team treated the corpses and how their effect as a tableau on the museum’s conservators’ work area is described in the paper.

The specimen that appears to be linked to the mythological kraken is displayed in an imposing pose in Sutton Coldfield, Sutton Coldfield, UK – in the same way as “three long frolics on the water” in Verne’s story.

Meanwhile, researchers have revealed the locations of more than 1,100 species in Europe, most of which are unknown.

Image copyright STG Restoration Image caption Dingo encyclopaedia The Australian Dingo estimates about 600-700 species can be found on the continent, including many not found anywhere else

Like their namesakes, the 600-700 species are described in a new online dingo encyclopaedia for Australians and Europeans, The Australian Dingo.

Images and stories on the dingo’s history have circulated for hundreds of years.

But now many have been identified with complete characteristics, including distinguishing traits such as hair colour, muscle types and number of legs.

Tornadoes and wildfires

“What is astonishing is just how many species there are,” said Dr Jeff Ratcliff, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“A few of these animals were the seeds of windmills and they were dust devils or fireballs.”

The Discovery Channel documentary”World’s Largest Creatures” will broadcast on Monday, July 16 at 2100 BST

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