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'Exceedingly rare' intact pterosaur fossil from Jurassic period found in Scotland

Natalia Jagielska, a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, studies the intact pterosaur fossil discovered on Scotland's Isle of Skye. The fossil is the largest pterosaur found from the Jurassic period. Photo courtesy of the University of Edinburgh
Natalia Jagielska, a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, studies the intact pterosaur fossil discovered on Scotland's Isle of Skye. The fossil is the largest pterosaur found from the Jurassic period. Photo courtesy of the University of Edinburgh

Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Researchers in Scotland said a winged reptile fossil found on one of the country's islands is a previously unknown type of pterosaur and the largest ever discovered from the Jurassic period.

The University of Edinburgh team, which published its paper on the discovery Tuesday in the journal Current Biology, said the pterosaur that lived about 170 million years ago was remarkably well-preserved when it was discovered in 2017 on the Isle of Skye, off Scotland's west coast.

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"Pterosaurs preserved in such quality are exceedingly rare and are usually reserved to select rock formations in Brazil and China. And yet, an enormous superbly preserved pterosaur emerged from a tidal platform in Scotland," Natalia Jagielska, a doctoral student and the lead author of a paper, said in a University of Edinburgh news release.

Jagielska said the hollow bones of pterosaurs made their remains fragile and unlikely candidates to become long-lasting fossils, but the Isle of Skye discovery "remains in almost pristine condition, articulated and almost complete."

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"Its sharp fish-snatching teeth still retaining a shiny enamel cover as if he were alive mere weeks ago," she said.

The research team said the fossil, dubbed Dearc sgiathanach ("winged reptile" in Gaelic), had a wingspan of 8.2 feet. The size is far smaller than the 40-foot wingspan of pterosaurs discovered from the late Cretaceous period, but is the largest pterosaur discovered from the earlier Jurassic period.

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"Dearc is the biggest pterosaur we know from the Jurassic period, and that tells us that pterosaurs got larger much earlier than we thought, long before the Cretaceous period when they were competing with birds, and that's hugely significant," said Steve Brusatte, professor and Personal Chair of Palaeontology and Evolution in the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh.

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Jagielska said she will continue to study the fossil in the hopes of obtaining a greater understanding of how Dearc sgiathanach lived and flew.

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