Mary Anning: fossil collector, paleontologist, and heroic spirit

Rodrigo Brincalepe Salvador

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Wellington, New Zealand.

Email: salvador.rodrigo.b (at) gmail (dot) com

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Mary Anning (1799–1847) was a British fossil collector and self-taught paleontologist who made several important discoveries in the Jurassic rocks around her home in Lyme Regis. Unfortunately, she did not have the acknowledgment in academic circles she deserved during her life. Lately, she has received a bit of the spotlight. First, there is an ongoing movement to build a statue[1] for her. Secondly, there is a movie called Ammonite (Lionsgate, 2020) that is a dramatic retelling of her story.

Portrait of Mary Anning with her dog, Tray; the Golden Cap outcrop is shown in the background. Author unknown, pre-1842; Natural History Museum, London, UK. Source: Wikimedia Commons; public domain.

While most paleontologists are happily supportive of the statue-building campaign, the community (and critics) was divided regarding the movie, mostly due to Anning’s portrayal as a lesbian.[2] Yep, people still get angry with those sorts of things. Anyway, I will not discuss the movie here, because I’m neither entitled to nor interested in discussing dead scientists’ sexuality. Besides, I haven’t watched it.

I think, however, that I am in a good position to talk about another representation of Mary Anning in pop culture. As possibly the only – or one of the very few[3] – professional paleontologists invested in the Fate franchise,[4] I dedicate this article to discuss Anning’s incarnation in Fate/Grand Order.


Note that you can (SKIP >) this section if you play FGO. If you’re a normal person, please continue reading for some context.

Fate/Grand Order (henceforth FGO) is a video game developed by Delightworks (mobile version, 2014) and Sega AM2 (arcade version, 2018) and one of the top-grossing games worldwide (SuperData, 2019; Chapple, 2020), even if you’ve never heard about it, dear reader.

FGO belongs to the Fate franchise, which started with the game Fate/stay night back in 2004. The franchise revolves around mages fighting for the fabled Holy Grail, summoning heroic spirits to aid them in their quest. The mages are known as ‘Masters’ and the heroic spirits, as ‘Servants’.

Servants come from various places and cultures worldwide. They can be historical figures (e.g., Cleopatra VII and Marie Antoinette), mythological beings (e.g., Herakles and Ereshkigal), or literary characters (e.g., Astolfo and Sherlock Holmes). Unlikely as it may sound, Mary Anning is one of the Servants in FGO – well, sort of.

She is not part of the game (yet[5]) and only appears in a comedy manga about FGO called Learning with Manga![6] That manga initially revolved around explaining the basics of the game in a fun way, with chibi versions of the characters. Later on, however, it developed its plotline (please note that I’m using this term very loosely). Learning with Manga! (henceforth LWM) pokes fun at game mechanics and player behavior, also advertising in-game events and (sometimes) merch. The manga series was a success and had a second and third (current) seasons, respectively: More Learning with Manga! and Even More Learning with Manga! Mary Anning appears in the latter.


Originally in the Fate franchise, the Servants never gave away their true names easily, because that knowledge can impart their opponents with clues about how to defeat them. Just think about Achilles’ weak spot, for instance. As such, Servants are referred to by their character class.

You’ll likely be familiar with the Dungeons & Dragons character classes, such as Barbarian, Paladin, Rogue, and Wizard; all of which immediately paint a picture in our minds about any given character. The classes in Fate include D&D-sounding names (like Assassin and Archer) and also some rather weird choices (like Saber and Rider). In LWM, Mary Anning is introduced as Lancer, the class of spear-wielding heroic spirits.

In the story of LWM, a group of seven new servants to the franchise was created from the dough used to make udon noodles. Don’t ask. Image extracted from Chapter 79 of EMLWM.

As of writing, Lancer has not yet revealed her true name in the manga, but it is pretty obvious that she is Mary Anning. This has already been observed by best kouhai Mash Kyrielight.

Lancer doesn’t care whether Mash knows who she is. Image extracted from Chapter 104 of EMLWM.

Her identity is easy to figure out due to the abundance of clues: the ichthyosaur, the plesiosaur, the ammonite hairpins, the geological hammer, the basket for putting fossils, and even her clothes. Not to mention her dog, Tray.

Can you pet the dog in FGO? Nope, Lancer-chan won’t let you. Image extracted from Chapter 102 of EMLWM.

In reality, we didn’t even need all those clues. Just look at her portrait in FGO/LWM. It is the same as her “official” portrait shown at the beginning of this article. So, true name or not, no questions regarding her identity remain.

This looks familiar… Image extracted from Fate/Grand Order Wikia.


But who was Mary Anning anyway to be dubbed the Princess of Paleontology by later authors (e.g., Tickell, 1999; Huntington, 2005)? And while we’re at it, why princess and not queen? Anyway, let us take a look at who she was to understand all the tidbits that made their way into FGO/LWM.

Anning was born in 1799, in Lyme Regis, county of Dorset, southern England. When she was still 14 months old, Mary was part of a group of four people sheltering from the rain under a tree. The tree was struck by lightning and only Mary survived (Torrens, 1995; Cadbury, 2000). She then grew up to become The Flash, the hero of Central City— oh, wait a sec, I’m mixing things up. Anyway, her family said that Mary became a healthy and curious child after that incident and that the lightning bolt had sparked her intelligence (Torrens, 1995; Emling, 2009). Fittingly, Anning has an electricity-based attack in LWM.

Thor’s mighty geological hammer in action. Image extracted from Chapter 94 of EMLWM.

Mary’s father, Richard, was a carpenter, but he also collected fossils from the Jurassic sediments in the cliffs around Dorset for selling to visitors. Lyme Regis was then a summer vacation spot for royals and the rich (Norman, 1999). Richard died young, at age 44, but Mary and her only surviving sibling, Joseph, as well as their mother Molly, had been well-instructed in fossil collecting. Mary was exceptionally good at finding fossils, assembling the skeletons, and analyzing them, as time would show.

When Mary was around 10 to 12 years old, she and her brother unearthed a skeleton of an ichthyosaur (Torrens, 1995; Davis, 2009). The Anning siblings’ fossil was the first of those animals ever brought to light; it was described by a surgeon called Everard Home (Home, 1814). But the fossil species remained unnamed, because, at that time, scientists didn’t know what it was; opinion were divided between crocodile and fish. (If you want to learn more about the fossils, make sure to check the Appendix at the end of this article.)

The “crocodile-fish” fossil was a success among British paleontologists and Mary and her family started to become recognized fossil hunters during the 1810s (Torrens, 1995). The ichthyosaur got its official name in 1817 (meaning “fish-lizard) and was later to be deployed as Anning’s main weapon in LWM.

 A few years later, another of the Annings’ important finds was described: a plesiosaur (meaning “near-lizard”; De la Beche & Conybeare, 1821). The fossil was so weird, that at first people thought it was a forgery, made up of mixed bones (Rudwick, 1985). When it was finally confirmed that the plesiosaur fossil was real, Mary’s reputation as a fossil hunter became established. Furthermore, that fossil defined what’s possibly Anning’s Noble Phantasm in LWM.

Lapras uses Ice Beam— oops, wrong game. Image extracted from Chapter 169 of EMLWM.

The Annings had some rough times, though, and struggled to make enough money. By 1825, Mary had taken over the fossil business from her mother and brother, and people started coming to Lyme Regis to meet her (Torrens, 1995). Contemporaneous accounts mentioned how Anning was striving to make her way into male-dominated science.

Mary Anning discovered several important fossil species of reptiles during her career, including some SSR ones. She was also a saleswoman and sold the fossils to other researchers and collectors. Image extracted from Chapter 137 of EMLWM.

In 1828, Mary made her first discovery on the invertebrate (and coolest) side of the animal kingdom: she found vestiges of an ink sac in belemnites (Buckland, 1829a, 1836). Up to that point, no one was sure what belemnites were and Mary’s discovery showed they were cephalopods, related to present-day squids. Reportedly, the fossilized ink sac even had enough ink remaining to use as paint (Buckland, 1829).

This clearly shows how far her knowledge of paleontology went. Anning claimed she was illiterate, but that was not the case, as anyone reading her letters can easily recognize. Besides, she even learned French by herself to read the natural history treatises authored by Georges Cuvier (Tickell, 1999). Another important thing to consider is that Anning was born just a few years after deep time had been discovered. That means that geologists had just realized that the Earth was way older than the 6,000 years or so supposed by the Church, and that creatures with no living equivalents existed in the past but became extinct. In the British countryside, however, the Bible was still the “law” (McGowan, 2002), so it is even more amazing how Anning, despite that pastoral backdrop, taught herself cutting-edge paleontology. And what’s more, she taught herself to such a degree as to be considered the most knowledgeable paleontologist in Britain (Tickell, 1999).

Still in 1828, Mary made other important findings. First, she showed how coprolites were fossilized animal feces. Yes, that’s an odd bit of paleontology, I agree; but hey, it still counts as a discovery. And she found a pterosaur – and that was big news. Pterosaurs were already known from Germany since the previous century, but Buckland (1829b) described Mary’s fossil in a very generous manner, to say the least: “a monster resembling nothing that has ever been seen or heard-of upon earth, excepting the dragons of romance and heraldry.” It was a different genus from the German fossils, at least.

Painting by Rev. George Ernest Howman (1829) of Buckland’s “flying dragon” in Lyme Regis. This has been considered a naïve attempt of reconstructing past life (Martill, 2014). But because it was made by a priest, it could have been meant to poke fun at paleontologists’ “stupid ideas” that flew in the Bible’s face.

In 1829, Mary made her only visit to London, staying over at the Murchinsons: the geologist Roderick Murchinson and his wife Charlotte, of whom Mary became a friend.[7] That year she also discovered an important fossil of a chimaerid cartilaginous fish (Squaloraja). And on the following years, more ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, making her even more renowned; she began to attract international visitors as well, including King Georg of Saxony. By that time, she also started to be known as “princess of Paleontology” or “geological lioness” (Torrens, 1995; Davis, 2009) – or even more dramatically as the “Helen [of Troy] to the geologists” (Roberts,[8] 1834).

However, as things started to get better and she was finally being recognized and more widely accepted in the male-dominated British academy, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, dying, aged 47, in 1847.


In FGO/LWM, Mary Anning is said to have an abiding love of women and a murderous attitude (Fate/Grand Order Wikia, 2021). The former is shown by Anning being smitten with Artoria at first sight in the manga. That comes as no surprise, as we all know that LWM is a huge Yuri Singularity. As I mentioned above regarding Ammonite, many people who have nothing better to do complained about Anning’s portrayal as a lesbian in the movie. Thankfully, they don’t play FGO, so we don’t need to listen to their drivel here.

Finders, keepers. Just like with fossils? Image extracted from Chapter 102 of EMLWM.

But where does the “murderous attitude” come from? I suppose it’s all anger towards the bunch of self-important old British dudes, who knew less than her about fossils but still denied her a place in academia just because she was a woman. That was in the mid-19th century, of course; today, the old dudes in academia are… pretty much the same, really.

Taphonomy is the science that studies how organisms become fossilized. Image extracted from Chapter 94 of EMLWM.

Despite all the fossils she found and collected, the scientific publications describing and discussing them were all done by those old dudes. [9] What’s more, she got scarce to no acknowledgement as the discoverer of the fossils (Dickens, 1865; Torrens, 1995; McGowan, 2002). The species she discovered were all named in honor of those men who bought the fossil from her.[10] That left her exasperated; so, understandably, her Servant incarnation would want to make use of her newfound powers. Maybe she would be better as a Berserker, like her compatriot (and equally fantastic scientist) Florence Nightingale.[11] In LWM, however, the Berserker role was already taken by Paul Bunyan.

Anning’s efforts and expertise, surprisingly, were better acknowledged outside the UK (Dickens, 1865). At home – and with a few exceptions aside – she had less recognition (Roberts, 1834; Dickens, 1865; Forde, 1925). Almost two decades after her death, Charles Dickens[12] wrote about Anning’s life, remarking the lines on her memorial at Lyme Regis about her “usefulness in furthering the science of geology” (Dickens, 1865). Dickens then argued that geology was barely a science before Anning’s discoveries and that she was one of the people who turned it into a proper science. (Yes, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, I agree, but it’s a good one, so let’s leave it at that.)

Since then, many articles and books were written about her. Granted, the majority of those is made up of children’s books and heavily romanticized stories, as there was already a myth forming around her during her lifetime – a fact that makes her even more suited to be a Servant in FGO. Nowadays, Anning has justly become a textbook role model for those who want to pursue their interest in science, especially for young girls (Davis, 2009).[13]


If there are any lessons to be learned here, one would be that academia still has a long way to go until it becomes more inclusive and makes up for all the coprolites in its past. Secondly, it’s clear that LWM has a far superior story to regular FGO (not considering special events, of course) and some of its servants are way more interesting characters than the typical yet-another-samurai/ninja/Artoria we usually get in the main game. We definitely need more sciency Servants!

Finally, most people will turn their noses up at FGO, considering games to be below their academic attention. But I argue, as I’ve done before (Salvador, 2020), that games such as FGO can serve as a starting point for players to look for more information about their favorite characters – and to learn a good deal in the process. If that’s not a good platform for science outreach, then I don’t know what is. And if that’s true and you’re interested in reading more about Anning – and my article fell short of your expectations – fear not! There are some good biographies out there that you might want to check out: Pierce (2006), Emling (2009), and Sharpe (2020).

Duria Antiquior – A more Ancient Dorset, by H. De La Beche (1830). This watercolor is a reconstruction of the Jurassic environment at Dorset based on all the discoveries of Mary Anning. It became the basis of several other paleontological reconstructions and satire later on.


Anning, M. (1839) Extract of a letter from Miss Anning, referring to the supposed frontal spine in the genus Hybodus. Magazine of Natural History 3(36): 605.

BBC News. (2019) Lesbian storyline defended by film director Francis Lee. BBC. Available from: (Date of access: 05/Jan/2021).

Black, R. (2020) ‘Ammonite’ is historical fan fiction about the world’s first great fossil hunter. Smithsonian Magazine. Available from: (Date of access: 05/Jan/2021).

Buckland, W. (1829a) Fossil sepia. The Philosophical Magazine 5(29): 388.

Buckland, W. (1829b) On the discovery of a new species of pterodactyle in the Lias at Lyme Regis. Transactions of the Geological Society of London 3 [1835]: 217–222.

Buckland, W. (1829c) On the discovery of coprolites, or fossil faeces in the Lias at Lyme Regis, and in other formations. Transactions of the Geological Society of London 3 [1835]: 223–236.

Buckland, W. (1836) Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology. Pickering, London.

Burek, C.V. & Higgs, B. (2007) The role of women in the history and development of geology: an introduction. Geological Society of London Special Publications 281: 1–8.

Cadbury, D. (2000) The Dinosaur Hunters: A True Story of Scientific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World. 4th Estate, London.

Chapple, C. (2020) Fate/Grand order surpasses $4 billion after becoming Japan’s top grossing mobile game of 2019. Available from: (Date of access: 05/Jan/2021).

Conybeare, W.D. (1824) On the discovery of an almost perfect skeleton of the Plesiosaurus. Transactions of the Geological Society of London 1: 381–389.

Davis, L.E. (2009) Mary Anning of Lyme Regis: 19th Century Pioneer in British Palaeontology. Headwaters 26: 96–126.

De la Beche, H. & Conybeare, W.D. (1821) Notice of the discovery of a new fossil animal, forming a link between the Ichthyosaurus and crocodile, together with general remarks on the osteology of the Ichthyosaurus. Transactions of the Geological Society of London 5: 559–594.

Dentzien-Dias, P.; Carrillo-Briceño, J.D.; Francischini, H.; Sánchez, R. (2018) Paleoecological and taphonomical aspects of the Late Miocene vertebrate coprolites (Urumaco Formation) of Venezuela. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 490: 590–603.

Dick, D.G. & Maxwell, E.E. (2015) The evolution and extinction of the ichthyosaurs from the perspective of quantitative ecospace modelling. Biology Letters 11: 20150339.

Dickens, C. (1865) Mary Anning, the fossil finder. All the Year Round 13: 60–62.

Emling, S. (2009) The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman whose Discoveries Changed the World. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Ezcurra, M.D.; Nesbitt, S.J.; Bronzati, M.; Dalla Vecchia, F.M.; Agnolin, F.L.; Benson, R.B.J.; et al. (2020) Enigmatic dinosaur precursors bridge the gap to the origin of Pterosauria. Nature 588: 445–449.

Fate/Grand Order Wikia. (2021) Available from: (Date of access: 12/jan/2020).

Forde, H.A. (1925) Mary Anning: The Heroine of Lyme Regis. Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., London.

Herridge, T. & Sykes, B.W. (2019) Behind a lesbian furore over a famous palaeontologist lies a deeper truth. The Guardian. Available from: (Date of access: 05/Jan/2021).

Hoffmann, R. & Stevens, K. (2019) The palaeobiology of belemnites – foundation for the interpretation of rostrum geochemistry. Biological Reviews 95(1): 94–123.

Home, E. (1814) Some account of the fossil remains of an animal more nearly allied to fishes than any of the other classes of animals. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal 104: 571–577.

Hone, D.W.E.; Witton, M.P.; Martill, D.M. (2017) New perspectives on pterosaur palaeobiology. Geological Society of London Special Publications 455: 1–6.

Huntington, T. (2005) The princess of paleontology. British Heritage 26(2): 44–59.

Lomax, D.R. & Massare, J.A. (2015) A new species of Ichthyosaurus from the Lower Jurassic of West Dorset, England, U.K. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 35(2): e903260.

Maisch, M.W. (2010) Phylogeny, systematics, and origin of the Ichthyosauria – the state of the art. Palaeodiversity 3: 151–214.

Martill, D.M. (2014) Dimorphodon and the Reverend George Howman’s noctivagous flying dragon: the earliest restoration of a pterosaur in its natural habitat. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 125(1): 120–130.

McGowan, C. (2002) The Dragon Seekers: How an Extraordinary Circle of Fossilists Discovered the Dinosaurs and Paved the Way for Darwin. Basic Books, New York.

Norman, D.B. (1999) Mary Anning and her times: the discovery of British palaeontology (1820–1850). Trends in Ecology & Evolution 14(11): 420–421.

O’Keefe, F.R. (2002) The evolution of plesiosaur and pliosaur morphotypes in the Plesiosauria (Reptilia: Sauropterygia). Paleobiology 28(1): 101–112.

Pierce, P. (2006) Jurassic Mary: Mary Anning and the Primeval Monsters. Sutton Publishing, Stroud.

Roberts, G. (1834) History and Antiquities of the Borough of Lyme Regis and Charmouth. S. Bagster, London.

Salvador, R.B. (2019). The scientists of Assassin’s Creed. Part 1: James Cook and Charles Darwin. Journal of Geek Studies 6(1): 19–27.

Salvador, R.B. (2020) Ancient Egyptian royalty in Fate/Grand Order. Journal of Geek Studies 7(2): 131–148.

Sharpe, T. (2020) The Fossil Woman: A Life of Mary Anning. Dovecote Press, Stanbridge.

SuperData. (2019) 2019 Year in Review: Digital Games and Interactive Media. Available from: (Date of access: 05/Jan/2021).

Tickell, C. (1999) Princess of palaeontology. Nature 400: 321.

Torrens, H. (1995) Mary Anning (1799-1847) of Lyme; ‘the greatest fossilist the world ever knew’. British Journal for the History of Science 28: 257–284.

Troelsen, P.V.; Wilkinson, D.M.; Seddighi, M.; Allanson, D.R.; Falkingham, P.L. (2019) Functional morphology and hydrodynamics of plesiosaur necks: does size matter? Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 39: e1594850.

Vincent, A. (2009) Reclaiming the memory of pioneer female geologists 1800–1929. Advances in Geosciences 53: 129–154.

Witton, M.P. (2015) Were early pterosaurs inept terrestrial locomotors? PeerJ 3: e1018.

Witton, M.P. & Habib, M.B. (2010) On the size and flight diversity of giant pterosaurs, the use of birds as pterosaur analogues and comments on pterosaur flightlessness. PLoS ONE 5(11): e13982

Yang, Z.; Jiang, B.; McNamara, M.E.; Kearns, S.L.; Pittman, M.; Kaye, T.G.; et al. (2019) Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex feather-like branching. Nature Ecology & Evolution 3: 24–30.

Data and Credits

Many Anning (Lancer) is featured in the following Even More Learning with Manga! chapters: 77, 79, 85, 90, 94, 102, 104, 105, 112, 114, 117, 119, 121, 122, 132, 137, 144, 157, 166, 169.

The images from Even More Learning with Manga! used herein were extracted from Fate Grand Order Wiki – GamePress ( Given that there is no official translation of those chapters yet – and my Japanese skills are useless to read anything more complex than the kids’ menu – I’m relying on the translation by TFO Scans.


Many thanks to João Vitor Tomotani, who stopped farming during the Beni-Enma event for a while to compile the list of chapters where Lancer appears.

About the author

Dr. Rodrigo Salvador is a paleontologist who studies the evolution of land snails. He would like Mary Anning to become a playable character in FGO, but he also knows he would never get her from a gacha roll – he couldn’t pull any Servant he wants if his life depended on it. Rate up is a lie!


Mary Anning discovered several important fossils during her career. In the gacha system of fossil outcrops, she managed to pull some amazing SSR specimens, so let’s take a look at them. And no, I haven’t made a tier list; the fossils are listed here in the same order as they were mentioned in the main text.


That first ichthyosaur skeleton discovered by the Annings (the one described by Home in 1814) was later deemed to belong to the species Temnodontosaurus platyodon (Conybeare, 1822). Other of Mary’s findings belonged to the species Ichthyosaurus communis De la Beche & Conybeare, 1822.

The skull of Temnodontosaurus platyodon found by the Annings (Natural History Museum, London) and the illustration from Home (1814).

Ichthyosaurs (Order Ichthyosauria) were marine reptiles. They were completely unrelated to dinosaurs, by the way, although their actual position within the tree of life remains contentious. There are around 50 genera of ichthyosaurs known (Maisch, 2010) and they lived during the Mesozoic Era, from roughly 250 to 90 Ma (millions of years ago). Anning’s fossils date from the Early Jurassic, circa 200 to 175 Ma. When alive, these animals could range from 1 to 15 m in length, and – broadly speaking – would have lived pretty much like dolphins (Dick & Maxwell, 2015).

In artistic interpretations, ichthyosaurs even look almost as silly as dolphins. Life reconstruction of Ichthyosaurus anningae, by N. Tamura (2016); extracted from Wikimedia Commons.

To my knowledge, however, the possibility of using ichthyosaurs as lances has not been empirically verified by any paleontologist.


The plesiosaur was considered to be Anning’s greatest discovery by her contemporaries. The genus Plesiosaurus was first described by De la Beche & Conybeare (1821), but the species was only named a few years later: Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus Conybeare, 1824.

Letter from Anning (1823) about the discovery of a nearly complete skeleton of Plesiosaurus, later named Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus by Conybeare (1824).
Illustration of Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus; from Conybeare (1824).

Plesiosaurs (Order Plesiosauria) were marine reptiles as well, but not closely related to ichthyosaurs – nor to dinosaurs, for that matter. They lived all around the world from the Late Triassic to the end of Cretaceous (roughly 204 to 65 Ma) and died out in the same extinction event that wiped out all non-avian dinosaurs (the so-called K–Pg extinction event). Most plesiosaurs species had long necks and powerful flippers and some species could reach 15 meters in length. They were carnivorous: some were apex predators, but others specialized in smaller prey. However, no one is sure what sort of pressure could have selected for such long necks (Troelsen et al., 2019). The short-necked members of the group are generally called pliosaurs; while they have typically been considered a separate suborder of Plesiosauria, there might be more to their evolutionary history than that simple division (O’Keefe, 2002).


As mentioned above, Anning discovered a fossil belemnite with a vestige of an ink sac, thus determining they were cephalopod mollusks. Class Cephalopoda, in the Phylum Mollusca, contains squids, octopuses, cuttlefish, and nautiluses, as well as the also-extinct ammonoids (or ammonites); all of them are marine animals. Belemnites lived from the Late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous (roughly 240 to 65 Ma), becoming extinct in the K–Pg event. Ammonites were also a causality of that event.

Belemnites were rather squid-like in appearance but had an internal bullet-shaped shell. That shell is what is typically preserved as fossils, although some specimens (like Mary’s) can retain vestiges of their soft bodies too. Belemnites would have lived from littoral areas to the outer continental shelf, preying upon crustaceans and fish, as well as other cephalopods (Hoffmann & Stevens, 2019).

The belemnite Passaloteuthis bisulcata (de Blainville, 1827), showing the conical shell (to the right), as well as parts of its squid-like soft body, such as the spike-bearing arms (to the left). From the Jurassic sediments of Ohmden, Germany; extracted from Wikimedia Commons (Ra’ike, 2008).


Shell, in two views, of Passaloteuthis bisulcata; courtesy of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris.

On a side note, ammonites have external shells, just like present-day nautiluses. There is a variety of ammonite species in Lyme Regis and undoubtedly Anning would have come across tons of them. But they are otherwise well-known mollusks and would not have made headlines like the reptiles and the belemnites did. It’s still cool, though, that Anning has ammonite hairpins in LWM.

Fossil of Asteroceras obtusum Sowerby, 1817 from Lyme Regis; courtesy of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.


Anning was likely the first one to notice (perhaps around 1824) that the so-called “bezoar stones” found in the abdomen of fossil ichthyosaurs were fossilized feces. She noted that if you split one of those stones up, you’d find fragments of the prey items that the ichthyosaur had eaten, such as fish bones. The official scientific acknowledgement of this find was published by Buckland (1829c). The name coprolite is – and I kid not – Greek for “dung-stone”.

Despite all the jokes one can make about this topic, coprolites can be very important in paleontological research. That’s because they tell us a lot about the diet and behavior of extinct animals; information that we would not necessarily be able to figure out otherwise.

Whodunnit? – Coprolite version. Believe it or not, this image was extracted (and cropped) from an actual scientific article: Dentzien-Dias et al. (2018). The fossils are from the Miocene (roughly 11.5 to 5.3 Ma) of Venezuela.


The pterosaur discovered by Mary is called Dimorphodon macronyx (Buckland, 1829) and, contrary to the painting by Reverend Howman above, it was raven-sized. Pterosaurs, like others above, lived during the Mesozoic (roughly 230 to 65 Ma) but died in the K–Pg extinction event. But contrary to the ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, pterosaurs (Order Pterosauria) are indeed closely related to dinosaurs, although they are not dinosaurs themselves. Recently, it was discovered that animals of the family Lagerpetonidae, previously thought to be an early offshoot of the dinosaur tree, might instead be immediately related to pterosaurs (Ezcurra et al., 2020).

Illustration of Dimorphodon macronyx from Buckland (1829b).


Life reconstruction of Dimorphodon macronyx by M.P. Witton; extracted from Witton (2015).

There are a little over a hundred pterosaur species know. They were active animals that could go from very small (about 25 cm wingspan) to surprisingly large (about 11 m wingspan) (Witton & Habib, 2010). Pterosaurs were covered by feather-like structures called pycnofibers that may have the same origin as bird (and dino) feathers (Yang et al., 2019). Finally, despite the prevalent view that they all fed on fish, many species had other habits, from terrestrial carnivores to omnivores or specialized insectivores (Hone et al., 2017).

It would be great if LWM’s Anning had some pterosaur themes to her character as well. Unfortunately, that idea was already taken (read: wasted) in FGO by Quetzalcoatl for no reason other than the fact that one pterosaur genus was named Quetzalcoatlus in honor of that Aztec god.

[1] Find out more (and contribute!) here:

[2] If you’re interested, you can start delving in that huge discussion by reading the pieces by BBC News (2019), Herridge & Sykes (2019), and Black (2020). They are all listed in the References section below.

[3] If you’re another one, kindly send me a note – and also your User ID so I can add you to my Friend List!

[4] I already wrote a rather long article about the Egyptian characters in FGO: Salvador (2020), listed in the References section below.

[5] One can hope.

[6] Written and illustrated by Riyo, published by Kadokawa Shoten and Aniplex of America (2015–ongoing).

[7] In Ammonite, Charlotte is Mary’s romantic interest.

[8] I suspect this poor fellow was friendzoned.

[9] Anning only managed to publish a single academic article in her life, which was a letter to the editor of the Journal of Natural History (then Magazine of Natural History) questioning one of their published articles about a fossil shark (Anning, 1839).

[10] Mary Anning finally got an ichthyosaur species named after her in 2015. Yes, you read that right, two centuries late. Ichthyosaurus anningae, from Dorset, was described by Lomax & Massare (2015).

[11] That’s right, she’s a servant too and I promise to write about her later on. I know I had already promised that when I wrote about Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (Salvador, 2019). I’m getting there, alright?

[12] Come on, DW, we’ve only got Shakespeare and Andersen right now representing Western literature. Dickens Servant when? Not to mention the brothers Grimm, Edgar A. Poe… We haven’t even got Homer, for Zeus’ sake, despite all the recent focus on Greece.

[13] Many other (scarcely recognized) women were contributing to the budding sciences of geology and paleontology at that time. They are not fossil-wielding servants, so I won’t write about them here. But you can check, for instance, Burek & Higgs (2007) and Vincent (2009).

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