Doris the Pliosaurus
Travel back in time 150 million years and dive into Bristol’s Jurassic seas.
Discovered in Westbury, Wiltshire in 1994, our internationally significant specimen is the world’s only example of a new species of pliosaur – Pliosaurus carpenteri. Pliosaurs are so big that it took ten years to prepare all the fossils that were found.
What are the key facts about Doris?
The vital stats
Doris’ skull was 1.8m long. How tall are you? Could she have gulped you down in one bite?
Fact: Pliosaurs chomped and swallowed their prey whole! Their skulls weren’t adapted to tear prey to pieces.
Doris weighed around 4,500kg. How much do you weigh? How many of you does it take to match Doris’ weight?
Fact: Living animals give us clues to help us to work out how much Doris weighed. No living sea creature is like a pliosaur, and pliosaurs have no direct living relatives, so they only give us rough estimates.
How long can you hold your breath?
Doris breathed air too, coming to the water’s surface. We know this because Doris is a reptile, and all reptiles breathe air.
But how long could Doris hold her breath? We can compare Doris to animals living in the sea today to make an estimate.
How long do you think Doris could hold her breath for?
Sight – Big eyes at the side of her head = wide field of vision
Smell – Nostrils’ adapted to channel water = super sense of smell
Sound – No ear bones = no hearing, but she may have been able to feel deep sound vibrations
Extra Mystery Sense! – Pits = a special sense for pressure, chemicals, electricity, or something else?
Glamour queen or murky green… What colour was Doris?
Doris’ skin has not been fossilised, so clues to her colour come from living animals. Pick a living animal to see what Doris looks like in their colours. Discover why they might be a close colour match!
Was Doris’ skin smooth like a Blue Whale?
Could Doris have tough skin like a turtle?
Was Doris’ skin scaly like a crocodile?
Did Doris have bright colours like a penguin?
Did Doris have counter-shading like a killer whale?
Did Doris have skin like a lizard?
Will we ever know what colour Doris really was?
Answer 10 years ago = ‘No’
Answer today = ‘Maybe..!’
If we discover a fossil Pliosaurus with skin preserved, we may be able to work out Doris’ real colour.
Palaeontologists at the University of Bristol are using brilliant new detective work and super high tech machines to uncover the real colour of extinct creatures.
This is part of a limb bone from a plesiosaur, another kind of marine reptile. It was found in the same clay pit as Doris.
Can you spot the bite marks? This plesiosaur has either been attacked by a ferocious predator, or bitten by a carcass scavenger.
Plesiosaur limb bone, species unidentified
This is a tooth from another pliosaur called Pliosaurus westburyensis. This pliosaur was found in the same clay pit as Doris and can been seen on display in the Sea Dragons Gallery at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
Pliosaur tooth, Pliosaurus westburyensis
Fish made a tasty morsel for many Jurassic predators. This Caturus skull has been squashed when it was fossilised. Look closely and you can see its gills and teeth. It was found in the same clay pit as Doris.
Fish head showing gills and teeth, Caturus sp.
This is bone from a Jurassic turtle found in the same clay pit as Doris.
Turtle limb bone, species unidentified
This is the skull from a Jurassic marine crocodile called Torvoneustes carpenteri that was found in the same clay pit as Doris.
Yum! These squid-like creatures were a favourite food for Doris.
This is the fossil skull and flipper from an Ichthyosaur, another kind of marine reptile that shared the Jurassic waters with Doris.