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Saturday, 17 January 2015
A Scottish sea monster
It was the size of a motorboat and looked like a "sinister dolphin," reportsDiscovery News in describing Scotland's first known—and newly discovered—ichthyosaur. In 1959, Brian Shawcross came upon prehistoric bones on the Isle of Skye; the amateur fossil hunter donated them to Glasgow's Hunterian Museum in the 1990s, Reuters reports, and they were recently identified as a new species, one that lived roughly 170 million years ago.
In a nod to Shawcross and a move designed to encourage more such gifts to science, the Guardian reports the prehistoric reptile was named Dearcmhara shawcrossi (the first word, pronounced "jark vara," is Scottish Gaelic for "marine lizard").
The ichthyosaur—with its pointy head, flippers, and vertical tail (illustration here)—is described today in the Scottish Journal of Geology. Shawcross recovered a literal handful of pieces from the back, tail, and fin of the roughly 14-foot creature ("You can hold all of the bones in one hand," notes University of Edinburgh paleontologist Steve Brusatte).
The fin bone's features suggest Dearcmhara shawcrossi hada different musculature and a possibly stronger swimming ability than that of other ichthyosaurs. The bones also add to a relatively scant marine reptile fossil record from the Middle Jurassic, says Brusatte, who explains that Scotland is home to some of the only fossils from the period.
"Many other marine reptile fossils have been found in Scotland, but the vast majority of these have disappeared into private collections or been sold. This new specimen finally breaks the impasse," he says.