It may be best known today for its otters and puffins, but 170 million years ago the Isle of Skye was home to massive reptiles with wingspan larger than a king-sized bed, researchers have revealed.
fossil hunters in Scotland They say they’ve recovered the remains of the world’s largest Jurassic pterosaur, adding that the creature – known informally as a pterodactyl – also boasted sharp teeth for subtracting and trapping fish.
With a wingspan of about 2.5 meters or larger – about the size of today’s largest flying birds, such as the wandering albatross – the creature sheds new light on the evolution of pterosaurs, since it wasn’t thought they reached this size until about 25 million years later.
“When this thing lived about 170 million years ago, it was the largest animal that ever flew, at least we know of,” said Professor Steve Brusatte, a co-author on the research from the University of Edinburgh.
“We really dragged the evolution of large pterosaurs back in time,” he said.
Brusatte added previous finds that pterosaurs did not grow much larger than about 1.6-1.8 meters in wingspan during the Jurassic period, but that they reached much larger sizes during the Cretaceous period.
“There were pterosaurs living at the end of the Cretaceous when the asteroid the size of fighter planes collided,” Brusatte said, referring to the mass extinction 66 million years ago that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and countless other creatures.
The latest discovery raises questions about the idea that competition with birds may have initially driven the surge in pterosaurs’ size.
Birds evolved from dinosaurs around this date [pterosaur] Brusatte said, though he added that the birds may have put evolutionary pressure on them to grow larger.
This isn’t the first time pterosaurs have been discovered in the UK – paleontologist Mary Anning discovered what they were called Her “Flying Dragon” in 1828.
Brusatte said the new discovery, dubbed Dear sgiathanach It means both “winged reptile” and “reptile of Skye” in Scottish Gaelic, and is notable for the completeness of the fossil.
“It’s probably about 70% complete, which is really cool for pterosaurs, because these things are really hard to scale,” he said, noting that the walls of many bones are no thicker than a sheet of paper.
An analysis of the bones showed the animal was at most an adolescent and still growing, Brusatte said, adding that its adult wingspan may be more than three metres.
The team also performed scans of the pterosaur’s skull, which allowed them to build a digital model of the brain. The results revealed that the animal had very large optic lobes, indicating that it had very good eyesight.
Writing in the magazine current biologyBrusatte and his colleagues report how the fossils, revealed at the National Museum of Scotland, were discovered by doctoral student Amelia Penny, who spotted the creature’s skull during fieldwork on the Isle of Skye in 2017.
“It didn’t look like anything else I’d seen,” she told the Guardian.
She added, “I grew up going to the Natural History Museum in London and reading about Mary Anning’s fossil discoveries on the Jurassic coast – which certainly influenced my decision to become a paleontologist.” “But finding a new Jurassic reptile, and especially a fossil of this importance, is not something I would have dared expect to happen to me.”
Dr David Unwin, an expert on pterosaurs at the University of Leicester, who was not involved in the research, said it was controversial whether the newly discovered creature was the largest of its time, noting that some fragmentary bones from other fossils had already hinted at the same size. Pterosaurs in the middle of the Jurassic period.
However, he said the find is significant because fossils dating back to that time are scarce, while complete pterosaur remains are very few.
“This new discovery will allow us to go back to the ancient collections and better understand what we have there,” he said. “It’s a big piece of the puzzle in our evolutionary history of pterosaurs.”