Scotland: Largest species of Jurassic pterosaur ever excavated identified

An investigation reveals that the rocks of the Isle of Skye ( Scotland ) hid the fossil of a new species of pterosaur , a flying reptile with a wingspan of 2.5 meters.

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The world’s largest Jurassic pterosaur , a winged reptile with a wingspan of 2.5 meters that lived 170 million years ago, has been found jutting out of rocks on the Isle of Skye ( Scotland ).

University of St Andrews doctoral student Amelia Penny spotted its sharp-toothed jaw in a layer of ancient limestone on the Skye coast. That initial discovery, in 2017, has now been followed by a detailed examination of the fossil skeleton, published in Current Biology .

The research, led by University of Edinburgh PhD student Natalia Jagielska, has also revealed that the creature was a species new to science. It has been given the Gaelic name Dearc sgiathanach (pronounced Jark Ski-an-Ach), which translates to “winged reptile”.

Researchers from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and the Staffin Museum on Skye had to remove the slab of rock that buries the pterosaur fossil – a laborious and noisy process that competes with the incoming tide – and bring it to the University of Edinburgh.

“Dearc is a fantastic example of why paleontology will never stop being amazing. As flying animals, their bones are very light, just like today’s birds. That makes them incredibly fragile and they are not usually preserved as fossils.”

exceptional creature

The pterosaur is exceptional, it has a well-preserved skull, with delicate palatal elements including a hyoid (the “tongue” bone) giving us a unique look at this rarely well-preserved cranial feature. Unfortunately, its back (or “top”) is missing due to tidal erosion, Jagielska explains on her Twitter account.

Erosion also removed the wing phalanges, which required calculating the wingspans using known element lengths and backtracking against known pterosaur wingspans . “This gave our estimate of a wingspan of over two meters, which is considerably higher than that of the average Jurassic pterosaur ,” says the paleontologist.

Professor Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, who led the field trip to the Isle of Skye, calls the fossil “superlative”. Their size “tells us that pterosaurs got bigger much earlier than we thought, long before the Cretaceous period when they were competing with birds, and that’s very significant.”

(With information from Europe Press)