Scientists have identified a new species of ichthyosaur that once roamed the waters of Scotland, living in a shallow sea around what is now the Isle of Skye.
The dolphin-like ichthyosaur grew up to 14-feet-long, according to the Daily Mail, and was identified by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and a consortium of Scottish institutions. Studying fossil fragments discovered in the last 50 years around Skye, they were able to identify a previously unknown species of ichthyosaur, now dubbed Dearcmhara shawcrossi.
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The animal lived 170 million years ago, according to LiveScience, and its remains fill a gap in the fossil record of ichthyosaurs, which spanned from 176 million to 161 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who co-authored the study, noted that the ichthyosaur was the first of its kind that was distinctly known to inhabit Scotland.
“It’s one of a select few specimens of that age in the world,” he said.
An amateur fossil collector named Brian Shawcross is responsible for discovering the specimens that proved the ichthyosaur’s existence, and as such, it is named after him. Dearcmhara, the first part of the ichthyosaur’s name, is a Gaelic word that means “marine lizard.”
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Last month, an amateur fossil hunter in Wales discovered a seven-foot-long ichthyosaur skeleton. As the Inquisitr noted, while fossils are common in the region, the size and state of the skeleton made it a unique find.
Brusatte noted that fragments of vertebrae and an upper arm bone were used to identify the new species. Mixed among the bones of other ichthyosaurs that are commonly uncovered in England, Brusatte pointed out that these were the first fossils of their kind ever reported in Scotland.
“It’s not the most beautiful specimen in the world,” he said. “If it was found somewhere [besides Scotland], people might not have looked at it very closely.”
Skye is one of the few places in the world where middle Jurassic period fossils can be found. Dr. Nick Fraser, of National Museums Scotland, pointed out that the ichthyosaur discovery marks the beginning of a collaboration among some of Scotland’s most eminent paleontologists.
“We are excited by the program of work and are already working on additional new finds. This is a rich heritage for Scotland,” he said.
A description of the new ichthyosaur was published in the Scottish Journal of Geology.
[Image: PA via the Daily Mail]