Attenborosaurus on the wall of the Museum's Fossil Marine Reptile gallery

Attenborosaurus on the wall of the Museum's Fossil Marine Reptile gallery.

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Attenborosaurus: a celebrity reptile

This long-necked skeleton is Attenborosaurus, an extinct marine reptile named after legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.

Attenborough has many animal and plant species named after him, but this namesake is particularly special.

In this instance, the broadcaster has a whole genus - a group of related organisms with similar features - named after him. The type species (the species on which a genus is based) is Attenborosaurus conybeari


Attenborosaurus was a plesiosaur, a reptile with a long neck, round body and four limb paddles. It lived about 190 million years ago and swam in tropical seas that covered land which now makes up the south coast of England.

When the remains of this animal were first discovered on the Jurassic Coast in 1880, they were referred to as Plesiosaurus conybeari. The original specimen was destroyed in 1940, during the Second World War, when a bomb fell on Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.

Now the Natural History Museum in London houses the most complete copy, which you can see high up on the wall in the Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery. Since the original was destroyed, the Museum plaster cast of the skeleton is now the type specimen.

It was renamed after Sir David in 1993 by palaeontologist Robert Bakker, who realised this animal was different enough from other plesiosaurs to deserve its own genus, Attenborosaurus.

After the named was officially declared, Sir David paid a visit to the Museum to visit the fossil reptile.

Angela Milner, a Museum palaeontologist who hosted Attenborough, says, 'When the animal was named after him he was so thrilled, like a dog with two tails.'