03 March 2022
A spectacular fossil of a huge flying reptile known as a pterosaur, that was found on the Isle of Skye, is the largest of its kind ever discovered from the Jurassic period.
The giant winged creature, more popularly known as pterodactyls, lived around 170 million years ago and had an estimated wingspan of more than 2.5 metres.
The fossil is the best-preserved skeleton of a pterosaur found in Scotland, experts say. The species has been given the Gaeli name Dearc sgiathanach (pronounced jark ski-an-ach), which translates as ‘winged reptile’ and also references the Isle of Skye, whose Gaelic name means ‘the winged isle.’
The unique specimen, discovered during a National Geographic Society-funded excavation in 2017, will now be added to National Museums Scotland’s collection and studied further.
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The find is described in a new paper published in Current Biology authored by scientists from the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland, the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, the University of St Andrews and Staffin Museum on the Isle of Skye.
Discovery of the fossil
Amelia Penny, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, discovered the fossil during a field trip in 2017, led by Brusatte, after spotting its jaw protruding from the limestone layer on a tidal platform at Rubha nam Brathairean (known as Brothers’ Point).
She alerted colleagues who inspected and identified the head of a pterosaur. A painstaking operation ensued to extract the fossil, led by Dugald Ross of Staffin Museum, involving the use of diamond-tipped saws to cut it from the rock, all while racing against time as the tide came in.
After the fossil was salvaged, it was brought to the University of Edinburgh for analysis and description. CT scans of the skull have revealed large optic lobes, which indicate that Dearc would have had good eyesight.
How did Dearc live and fly?
The specimen will be the subject of further study by PhD student Natalia Jagielska (pictured) which aims to reveal more about Dearc’s behaviour, particularly how it lived and flew. Natalia said: ‘Dearc is a fantastic example of why palaeontology will never cease to be astounding. 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.
'To achieve flight, pterosaurs had hollow bones with thin bone walls, making their remains incredibly fragile and unfit to preserving for millions of years. And yet our skeleton, 160 million years on since its death, remains in almost pristine condition, articulated and almost complete. Its sharp fish-snatching teeth still retaining a shiny enamel cover as if he were alive mere weeks ago.’
Read the full research report here.
(Report courtesy University of Edinburgh)