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World’s Largest Flying Animal Fossil Found in Scotland


Scotland is known for its cloudy skies and constant rain. However, 170 million years ago, the country was much warmer and tropical, and had a large reptile with a wingspan of 2.5 meters that soared into the sky. That information is what researchers learned from pterosaur fossils found on the Isle of Skye, northwest Scotland. The findings of the skeleton from the mid-Jurassic period were published in Current Biology earlier this week.

The new species, called Dearc sgiathanach (pronounced “jark ski-an-ack”) is a Scottish Gaelic name meaning “winged reptile” and “reptile of Skye”.

The discovery is a “superlative Scottish fossil,” Stephen Brusatte told DW. The paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh led an expedition funded by the National Geographic Society that managed to find the “Jark” in 2017. He referred to the state of fossil preservation, “far beyond any pterosaur ever found in Scotland and perhaps the best British skeleton found since ancient times.” Mary Anning in the early 1800s,” he said.

Anning was a renowned British paleontologist from the first half of the 19th century who discovered many fossils, including the first pterosaur skeleton outside Germany.

Flying reptiles, not dinosaurs

Pterosaurs or pterodactyls as they are commonly known, were flying reptiles that existed from the Late Triassic, which is about 228 million years ago, until the end of the Cretaceous or about 66 million years ago, when an asteroid wiped out almost all life on Earth.

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to fly. For those who have watched the film series “The Land Before Time”, it may be familiar, because Petrie, one of the main characters, is a Pterosaur. Despite the name, pterosaurs are not dinosaurs. They are close cousins ​​that evolved in different branches of the reptile family.

Prior to the discovery of this fossil, scientists used to think that pterosaurs were rare beyond 1.6 meters during the Triassic and Jurassic, Brusatte said, but “now we know they were capable of much larger.”

Very rare fossil

The fossil was discovered in 2017 by then-PhD student Amelia Penny on the shores of the Isle of Skye, at a place known as Brothers’ Point. He saw parts of his jaw and teeth protruding from the limestone.

Brusatte said team members got excited when they learned that it wasn’t just a skull, but an entire skeleton. He said it was difficult to free the fossils from the rock, because the tide rose quickly, so they had to wait until midnight, when the water receded, to finish cutting the fossils from the rock.

The team had to leave the find overnight until members were ready to carry out a full excavation the next morning, Brusatte said, also praying that no one stumbled into the precious fossil.

Natalia Jagielska, lead author of the paper, told DW that another thing that makes these fossils so rare is that it is difficult to find mid-Jurassic fossils, even harder to find pterosaurs.

“They are very rarely preserved in the fossil record,” Jagielska said. “They are very very smooth, have very thin and crushed bones.”

Jagielska, who is also an illustrator, described the pterosaur as a creature four feet high and 2.5 meters wide, resembling an albatross. Its arms were modified into wings and much larger than its hind legs, it had four toes, with the fourth toes very long to spread its membranous wings, similar to those of modern bats. It also has a long tail to maintain balance and has very sharp teeth, most likely for catching fish.

A deeper look into its skull reveals that it probably had good eyesight and excellent balance, “both of which are very helpful for flying animals,” Jagielska said.

Jagielska said she wanted people looking at the fossil on display at the National Museum of Scotland to take a moment and think about the fact that they were looking at the remains of an animal that flew over Scotland 170 million years ago, “preserved with many of the features it has.” while alive.”


(ita / ita)

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