Dolphin-like reptile lived 170million years ago in seas around what is now the Isle of Skye

ichthyosaurSightings of her date back to the sixth century and even in modern times, a glimpse of her still makes waves around the world.

But it seems Nessie is not the first monster to grace Scottish waters after it emerged a long-lost relative may have been discovered.

This monster lived 170 million years ago, not in Loch Ness, but in a warm shallow sea around what is now the Isle of Skye and has been identified as a new species of ‘ichthyosaur,’ a large dolphin-like marine reptile that grew up to 14 feet long from snout to tail.

A team of palaeontologists – led by the University of Edinburgh and including a consortium of Scottish institutions – studied fossil fragments of skulls, teeth, vertebrae and an upper arm bone discovered on Skye in the past 50 years.

Several of the fossils came from ichthyosaurs, including one previously unknown species, named ‘Dearcmhara shawcrossi.’ Dearcmhara, pronounced ‘jarkvara’, is Scottish Gaelic for marine lizard.

The name shawcrossi was chosen in honour of amateur fossil hunter Brian Shawcross, who found the creature’s remains on Skye’s Bearreraig Bay in 1959.

Throughout the Jurassic Period, much of Skye was under water. At the time, it was joined to the rest of the UK and part of a large island positioned between landmasses that drifted apart to become Europe and North America.

Lead researcher Dr Steve Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, said: ‘During the time of dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats.

‘Their fossils are very rare, and only now, for the first time, we’ve found a new species that was uniquely Scottish.

‘Without the generosity of the collector who donated the bones to a museum instead of keeping them or selling them, we would have never known that this amazing animal existed. We are honoured to name the new species after Mr Shawcross and will do the same if any other collectors wish to donate new specimens.’ A description of the creature appears in a study in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period can be found and scientists believe discoveries made there could provide valuable insights into how marine reptiles evolved.

Dr Nick Fraser, from National Museums Scotland, said: ‘Not only is this a very special discovery, but it also marks the beginning of a major new collaboration involving some of the most eminent palaeontologists in Scotland.

Full story: Mail on Sunday

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