A new species of flying dinosaur has been discovered on a remote Scottish island.
Scientists say the finding of fossils of the rare species, which lived up to 160 million years ago, could offer new clues to the evolution of flying pterosaurs.
The research also shows that pterosaurs persisted into the latest Jurassic Period alongside avialans – the dinosaurs which eventually evolved into modern birds.
The rarity of Middle Jurassic pterosaur fossils and their incompleteness have previously hampered attempts to understand the evolution of early pterosaurs.
But the discovery of the new fossils on the Isle of Skye shows that all principal Jurassic pterosaur clades evolved well before the end of the Early Jurassic period – far earlier than previously realized.
The discovery, from a collaborative team of scientists from the Natural History Museum and the universities of Bristol, Leicester and Liverpool, also shows that pterosaurs persisted into the latest Jurassic, alongside avialans, the dinosaurs which eventually evolved into modern birds.
The recently unearthed remains consist of a partial skeleton of a single dinosaur that included parts of the shoulders, wings, legs and backbone.
Many of the bones remain completely embedded in rock and could only be studied using CT scans.
Study senior author Professor Paul Barrett, of the Natural History Museum, says it was surprising that the dinosaur was found to be around in the Middle Jurassic period between 174.1 and 163.5 million years ago, and persisted for more than 25 million years.
He said: “Ceoptera helps to narrow down the timing of several major events in the evolution of flying reptiles.
“Its appearance in the Middle Jurassic of the UK was a complete surprise, as most of its close relatives are from China.
“It shows that the advanced group of flying reptiles to which it belongs appeared earlier than we thought and quickly gained an almost worldwide distribution.”
The research team named the new species Ceoptera evansae from the Scottish gaelic word Cheò, meaning mist, and the Latin -ptera, meaning wing, whilst Evansae honours Professor Susan Evans who has conducted years of anatomical and palaeontological research on the Isle of Skye.
The findings were published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Lead author Dr. Liz Martin-Silverstone says that the fossilized bones could soon provide clues to understanding the evolution of pterosaurs.
She added: “The time period that Ceoptera is from is one of the most important periods of pterosaur evolution.
“It is also one in which we have some of the fewest specimens, indicating its significance.
“To find that there were more bones embedded within the rock, some of which were integral in identifying what kind of pterosaur Ceoptera is, made this an even better find than initially thought.
“It brings us one step closer to understanding where and when the more advanced pterosaurs evolved.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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