Scientists have identified a new species of marine reptile that roamed the waters near the Scottish coast 170 millions years ago.
The ancient dolphin-like creature ate fish and squid and was reported to be 4.3 meters long.
A team led by Edinburgh University scientists announced the discovery of the creature called Dearchmara shawcrossi on Monday, based on fossil remains found on the Isle of Skye.
“During the time of dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats,” said Steve Brusatte of Edinburgh University’s School of GeoSciences.
“Their fossils are very rare and only now, for the first time, we’ve found a new species that was uniquely Scottish.”
The creature, named Dearcmhara shawcrossi, is a member of a group called ichthyosaurs that were among the dominant marine reptiles when dinosaurs ruled the land. Ichthyosaurs, some of which reached monstrous proportions rivaling all but the largest of today’s whales, thrived for more than 150 million years until disappearing about 95 million years ago.
Dearcmhara, a moderate-sized ichthyosaur, swam in warm, shallow seas during the Jurassic Period, eating fish and squid. Its remains are incomplete but the shape of a bone in its front flippers suggests it may have been an especially strong or fast swimmer, the researchers said.
“It is from Scotland, and is the first uniquely Scottish marine reptile ever discovered and studied,” said University of Edinburgh paleontologist Steve Brusatte, one of the researchers in the study published on Monday in the Scottish Journal of Geology.
“Many other marine reptile fossils have been found in Scotland, but the vast majority of these have disappeared into private collections or been sold. This new specimen finally breaks the impasse: it was found by a private collector who did a great thing, donated it to a museum and worked with scientists,” Brusatte added.
Amateur fossil hunter Brian Shawcross found the fossils on a beach in the northern part of the Isle of Skye in 1959 and donated them in the 1990s, researchers said. The genus name Dearcmhara (pronounced “jark vara”) is Scottish Gaelic for “marine lizard.” The species name honors Shawcross.
The discovery sheds light on a span of the Jurassic regarded as nearly a black hole, when it comes to the marine reptile fossil record, Brusatte said. Scotland is one of the few places with fossils from that time.
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