Science

New flying reptile species found in UK after scientists' 18-year study to name it


A new species of flying reptile that lived in the Jurassic period has been discovered on the Isle of Skye. Ceoptera evansae, a pterosaur, is thought to have walked the Earth between 168 and 166 million years ago.

Palaeontologists found the remains 18 years ago near Elgol on the Scottish island. Since the discovery they have been preparing the specimen and scanning the bones.

The skeleton is incomplete, with only its shoulders, wings, legs and backbone remaining. But researchers say it is providing key insights into the evolution and history of pterosaurs.

It belongs to the group of pterosaurs known as Darwinoptera, with many fossils having been found in China.

Findings published in the Journal Of Vertebrate Paleontology, suggest Darwinoptera may have been considerably more diverse than previously thought, persisting for more than 25 million years.

Professor Paul Barrett, merit researcher at the Natural History Museum, 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.”

Ceoptera evansae gets its name from the Scottish gaelic word “cheo”, meaning mist or fog, and the Latin for wing, “ptera”. The second part, “evansae”, honours palaeontologist Professor Susan Evans for her years of scientific work on the Isle of Skye.

Due to the area in Elgol being a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the team led by Professor Barret could only collect fallen rocks and noticed bones sticking out of one such boulder.

Lead author Dr Liz Martin-Silverstone, a palaeobiologist from the University of Bristol, said: “The time period that Ceoptera is from is one of the most important periods of pterosaur evolution, and 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.”



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