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

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Length

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.

illustration comparing the size of a pliosaurus skull to a child - the child fits within her skull

Weight

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.

Breathing

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?

illustration of a pliosaurus skull

Super senses

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!

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.

Ecosystem

Lots of other creatures lived around Doris 150 million years ago – friends, foe, prey…

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Evidence