Fossil of 170-million-year-old flying reptile unearthed in Scotland is “largest of its kind ever discovered”

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The fossil of a 170-million-year-old pterosaur, described as the world’s best-preserved skeleton of the prehistoric winged reptile, has been found on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, scientists said Tuesday.

The National Museum of Scotland said the fossil of the pterosaur, more popularly known as pterodactyls, is “the largest of its kind ever discovered from the Jurassic period.” The reptile had an estimated wingspan of more than 8 feet, similar to that of an albatross, the museum said.

Newly identified Jurassic Period flying reptile, or pterosaur, called 'Dearc sgiathanach'
A handout illustration shows the newly identified Jurassic Period flying reptile, or pterosaur, called ‘Dearc sgiathanach’, whose fossil was found on a rocky beach at Scotland’s Isle of Skye, flying alongside a large meat-eating dinosaur. 

NATALIA JAGIELSKA via Reuters


The fossil was discovered in 2017 by PhD student Amelia Penny during a field trip on the Isle of Skye in remote northwestern Scotland, when she spotted the pterosaur’s jaw protruding from rocks. It will now be added to the museum’s collection.

“Pterosaurs preserved in such quality are exceedingly rare and are usually reserved to select rock formations in Brazil and China. And yet, an enormous superbly preserved pterosaur emerged from a tidal platform in Scotland,” said Natalia Jagielska, a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh who is the author of a new scientific paper describing the find.

Researchers carry part of the fossil of a newly identified Jurassic Period flying reptile, at Scotland's Isle of Skye
Researchers carry part of the fossil of a newly identified Jurassic Period flying reptile, or pterosaur, called ‘Dearc sgiathanach’, found on a rocky beach at Scotland’s Isle of Skye, Britain in this handout image from May 2017. 

SHASTA MARRERO via Reters


Steve Brusatte, a professor of palaeontology at Edinburgh University, said the discovery was the best one found in Britain since the early 1800s, when celebrated fossil hunter Mary Anning uncovered many significant Jurassic fossils on the southern English coast.

He said the fossil had “feather light” bones, “as thin as sheets of paper,” and it took several days to cut it from rock using diamond-tipped saws as his team battled against encroaching tides.

It “tells us that pterosaurs got larger much earlier than we thought, long before the Cretaceous period when they were competing with birds, and that’s hugely significant,” Brusatte added.

The pterosaur has been given the Gaelic name Dearc sgiathanach, which translates as “winged reptile.” The name also references the Isle of Skye too, whose Gaelic name means “the winged isle,” the National Museum of Scotland said.

The discovery is described in a new paper published in Current Biology.

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to fly, some 50 million years before birds. They lived as far back as the Triassic period, about 230 million years ago. They were previously thought to have been much smaller during the Jurassic period.

The announcement of the discovery in Scotland comes just weeks after paleontologists said they had discovered the fossilized remains of a giant Jurassic “sea dragon” in the United Kingdom. The fossil, which researchers said was “very well-preserved,” was said to be the “palaeontological discovery of a lifetime.”



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