Loch Ness monster ancestor? Scottish scientists identify prehistoric reptile Dearcmhara shawcrossi

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A giant prehistoric reptile that patrolled Scotland's waters 170 million years ago has been identified by scientists.

The creature, which resembled a menacing dolphin and grew up to four metres long, was identified by fossils from the Isle of Skye in northwest Scotland.

A team of palaeontologists, led by Edinburgh University scientists, studied fossil fragments of skulls, teeth, vertebrae and an upper arm bone unearthed on the island over the past 50 years.

They identified several examples of extinct aquatic animals – known as ichthyosaurs – which lived during the early to middle Jurassic period, including the entirely new species.

Scientists named the species Dearcmhara shawcrossi in honour of Brian Shawcross, an amateur fossil collector who gathered many of the fossils in 1959.

These were later donated to a museum, allowing scientists to study them and identify the new species.

"During the time of dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats," said Steve Brusatte of Edinburgh University's School of GeoSciences.

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

Scotland's most famous reptile, real or imaginary, is the Loch Ness monster, the myth of which draws thousands of visitors a year to Loch Ness in northern Scotland.

Scientists say traces of a 150-million-year-old dinosaur which have been found on the banks of Scotland's Loch Ness are definitely not those of the lake's legendary monster.

A Jurassic-era fossil of four perfectly preserved vertebrae from what is believed to have been a 35-foot long plesiosaur was found by a man who plucked it from shallow water on the bank of the loch.

Gerald McSorley, 67, turned it over to the National Museum of Scotland, which is conducting tests on the rare find, the first of its kind in Scotland for more than a century.

Museum spokeswoman Hannah Dolby said: "Chances that the fossil originated where it was found are very slim ... it was deposited there either by natural or artificial means.

"Borings on the fossil show it comes from a marine environment rather than a fresh water environment like the loch," she said.

Tales of a "horrible great beastie" have swirled around the 200-metre deep Scottish loch for centuries, often describing the creature as black with a fat body and serpentine neck.

Cameras beam 24-hour footage of the loch to webcams and diving teams regularly scour the chilly waters for the elusive creature.

Any hopes among Nessie enthusiasts that the fossil find might prove the existence of the monster would be groundless, scientists say.

While the fossil is about 150 million years old, Loch Ness was formed only 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age.