It seems that Nessie isn’t the first sea monster to roam Scottish waters after palaeontologists make a prehistoric discovery.
A previously unknown species of reptile that lived in the oceans during the time of dinosaurs and is “uniquely Scottish” has been identified from fossil fragments.
The new species of ichthyosaur – a large dolphin-like marine reptile that grew up to 14 feet long – lived 170 million years ago, not in Loch Ness, but a warm shallow sea around what is now the Isle of Skye.
Palaeontologists in Scotland studied fossil fragments of skulls, teeth, vertebrae and an upper arm bone unearthed from Skye in the past 50 years.
Several of the fossils came from ichthyosaurs, including one previously unknown species named Dearcmhara shawcrossi.
The name shawcrossi was chosen in honour of amateur fossil hunter Brian Shawcross, who originally found the creature’s remains on Skye’s Bearreraig Bay in 1959.
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.”
Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period can be found. 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.
“It has brought together key organisations, local collectors on Skye and specialists from further afield.
“We are excited by the programme of work and are already working on additional new finds. This is a rich heritage for Scotland.”
The fossil bones of the ichthyosaur will be exhibited for one day at the Our Dynamic Earth visitor attraction in Edinburgh on Sunday, 18 January.