London: Move over, Nessie! A fierce predator – named the Storr Lochs Monster – that lived 170 million years ago has been unveiled for the first time, half a century after it was discovered.
The fossilised skeleton of the dolphin-like animal was found on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 1966.
It is the most complete skeleton of a sea-living reptile from the age of dinosaurs that has ever been found in Scotland, researchers from the University of Edinburgh said.
The ancient reptile was around four metres in length and had a long, pointed head filled with hundreds of cone-shaped teeth, which it used to feed on fish and squid, researchers said.
A partnership between the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland and energy company SSE has enabled the fossil to be extracted from the rock that encased it for millions of years.
The fossil has been preserved in National Museums Scotland’s storage facility for 50 years and now, by pooling expertise, the new collaboration will enable experts to form a clearer picture of the fossil.
A team of palaeontologists will study the fossil, which belongs to an extinct family of marine reptiles – known as ichthyosaurs. The ancient animals thrived in prehistoric seas at the same time the dinosaurs were ruling the land.
The discovery will help to unveil how ichthyosaurs evolved during the Middle Jurassic Period, a part of Earth’s history that has long been shrouded in mystery owing to a lack of fossil evidence from the time.
The Isle of Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period can be found.
In folklore, the Loch Ness Monster or ‘Nessie’ is an aquatic being which reputedly inhabits Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It is similar to other supposed lake monsters in Scotland and elsewhere, although its description varies.