A fossil belonging to a new species of flying lizard has been discovered among a century-old collection at a museum in Brighton.
PhD student Roy Smith found the mystery species of pterosaur among fossil collections housed in the Sedgwick Museum of Cambridge and the Booth Museum at Brighton.
He realised that what were believed to be the fossils of spark spines were actually fragments of jaws belonging to the toothless pterosaurs.
The University of Portsmouth student said while the pieces did resemble shark spines, there were key differences that allowed them to be distinguished.
“One such feature are tiny little holes where nerves come to the surface and are used for sensitive feeding by the pterosaurs,” Mr Smith said.
“Shark fin spines do not have these, but the early palaeontologists clearly missed these features.
“Two of the specimens discovered can be identified as a pterosaur called Ornithostoma, but one additional specimen is clearly distinct and represents a new species. It is a palaeontological mystery.”
However, the specimen is too fragmentary to be the basis for naming the new species, he said.
“Sadly, it is doubtful if any more remains of this pterosaur will be discovered, as there are no longer any exposures of the rock from which the fossils came.”
But Mr Smith hopes other museum collections may contain more pieces of the mystery creature and has vowed to continue his search as soon as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
Mr Smith’s supervisor, Professor Dave Martill from the University of Portsmouth, said the small piece of the unknown pterosaur is “tantalising”.
He added: “This is extremely exciting to have discovered this mystery pterosaur right here in the UK.
“This find is significant because it adds to our knowledge of these ancient and fascinating flying prehistoric reptiles, but also demonstrates that such discoveries can be made, simply by re-examining material in old collections.”
Dr David Unwin, from the University of Leicester’s Centre for Paleobiology Research, was also involved in the study, published in The Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.
Additional reporting by Press Association