UK

Loch Ness Monster's Sea Monster 'Cousin' Discovered In Scotland

12/01/2015 13:06 GMT | Updated 12/01/2015 13:59 GMT

A long-lost relative of Nessie may have been discovered in Scotland.

This monster lived 170 million years ago - not in Loch Ness, but a warm shallow sea around what is now the Isle of Skye.

It has been identified as a new species of ichthyosaur, a large dolphin-like marine reptile that grew up to 14 feet long.

Scientists studied fossil fragments of skulls, teeth, vertebrae and an upper arm bone unearthed from Skye in the past 50 years.

loch ness monster cousin

Not the only sea monster in the village: The Dearcmhara shawcrossi

Several of the fossils came from ichthyosaurs, including one previously unknown species, named Dearcmhara shawcrossi.

Dearcmhara, pronounced "jarkvara", is Scottish gaelic for marine lizard. The name shawcrossi was chosen in honour of amateur fossil hunter Brian Shawcross, who found the creature's remains on Skye's Bearreraig Bay in 1959.

Throughout the Jurassic Period, much of Skye was under water. It was joined to the rest of the UK and part of a large island positioned between landmasses that drifted apart to become Europe and North America.

loch ness monster

The iconic picture of 'Nessie'

Lead researcher Dr Steve Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh's School of Geosciences, said: "During the time of dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats.

"Their fossils are very rare, and only now, for the first time, we've found a new species that was uniquely Scottish.

"Without the generosity of the collector who donated the bones to a museum instead of keeping them or selling them, we would have never known that this amazing animal existed. We are honoured to name the new species after Mr Shawcross and will do the same if any other collectors wish to donate new specimens."

A description of the creature appears in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

Cryptozoology

Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period can be found. Scientists believe discoveries made there could provide valuable insights into how marine reptiles evolved.

Dr Nick Fraser, from National Museums Scotland, said: "Not only is this a very special discovery, but it also marks the beginning of a major new collaboration involving some of the most eminent palaeontologists in Scotland.

"It has brought together key organisations, local collectors on Skye and specialists from further afield.

"We are excited by the programme of work and are already working on additional new finds. This is a rich heritage for Scotland."

The fossil bones of the ichthyosaur will be exhibited for one day at the Our Dynamic Earth visitor attraction in Edinburgh on Sunday, January 18.

Cryptozoology