The flying reptile fossil that once ruled the skies is the largest ever discovered

“It was almost midnight when we finished taking it off, and we were pushing about 400 pounds down the beach with our torches and headlamps,” Brusatte said. “It was definitely the most stressed I’ve been in regards to a discovery in the field.”

The nearly complete fossil – Brusatte said around 70 per cent of the skeleton was found encased in rock – is the best-preserved pterosaur found in Scotland. It is also the largest of its kind ever discovered in the Jurassic period, according to the scientists, who detailed the discovery in a study published Tuesday in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers named the species Dear sgiathanach (pronounced yark ski-an-ach), which means “winged reptile” in Gaelic. The flying reptile lived about 170 million years ago and towered over the skies with a wingspan of over 8 feet, roughly the equivalent of a modern-day albatross.

The researchers used CT scans of the pterosaur’s skull, pictured here, to study the shape of its brain.Gregory F. Funston

Brusatte and his colleagues took thin slices of bone to perform forensic analysis of the skeleton. They discovered that the animal was not yet an adult pterosaur and was still growing when it died. The researchers also used CT scans to study the Scottish specimen’s skull and ears.

“We can see through the scans what this animal’s brain looked like, which is just crazy when you think it’s 170 million years old,” Brusatte said.

Artist's illustration of pterosaurs on the Isle of Skye.
Artist’s illustration of pterosaurs on the Isle of Skye.Natalia Jagielska

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight, using their expansive wings to flap and generate lift to propel them through the air. These creatures lived from the age of the dinosaurs, 230 million years ago in the Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous period, around 66 million years ago, when an extinction of sudden mass wiped out about three quarters of all plants and animals on the planet.

Specimens of pterosaurs have been found all over the world, including Brazil, China, and the Italian Alps, but these fossils are extremely rare. It’s even rarer to find pterosaur bones that have survived intact, said Natalia Jagielska, who holds a doctorate. student at the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the study.

“To fly, pterosaurs had hollow bones with thin bony walls, which made their remains incredibly fragile and unsuitable for preservation for millions of years,” she said in a statement.

A nearly complete pterosaur specimen from 170 million years ago will help paleontologists fill in parts of the limited fossil record and provide a better understanding of how some of these winged creatures grew to the size of airplanes. hunt.

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