The pterosaur, Ceoptera evansae, lived more than 166 million years ago.
More than 166 million years after its time roaming the Earth, scientists announced the discovery of a winged dinosaur skeleton found on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
In findings published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology On February 5, researchers discovered the remains of a single pterosaur, called Ceoptera evansae, which is believed to have lived 166 to 168 million years ago during the Middle Jurassic period.
The research was led by scientists from the Natural History Museum, the University of Bristol, the University of Leicester and the University of Liverpool.
Scientists report that incomplete fossil remains of Ceoptera evansae were first discovered in 2006 on a small beach along the coast of Loch Scavaig, on the Strathaird peninsula on the Isle of Skye.
Since then, researchers have analyzed partial skeletons (remains of shoulders, wings, legs and spine) and used digital scanning to reveal multiple elements of the skeleton that would otherwise be “inaccessible” due to being embedded in the rock.
According to the report, the Ceoptera evansae skeleton is among the first of a pterosaur species to be prepared entirely digitally.
In the findings, the researchers say that Ceoptera evansae comes from a group of pterosaurs known as Darwinoptera, which were believed to live mainly in China, where fossils of the species had been discovered before.
The discovery in Scotland has led researchers to suggest that Darwinoptera may have lived 25 million years longer than previously thought (from the Early Jurassic period to the Late Jurassic) and gives insight into the diversity of the species.
The pterosaur species is among the first vertebrates known to have evolved the ability to fly, and this new analysis indicates that the species lived alongside avians, the dinosaur species believed to have evolved into modern birds.
Professor Paul Barrett, Meritorious Research Fellow at the Natural History Museum and lead author of the paper, said in a press release for the article that the discovery of this species in the United Kingdom was a “complete surprise.”
“Ceoptera helps narrow down the timing of several important 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,” Barrett said. “This shows that the advanced group of flying reptiles to which it belongs appeared earlier than we thought and quickly acquired an almost global distribution.”
Dr. Liz Martin-Silverstone, a paleobiologist at the University of Bristol and lead author of the paper, said the findings bring researchers “one step closer to understanding” the evolution of pterosaurs.
“The time period that Ceoptera comes from is one of the most important periods of pterosaur evolution, and it is also one in which we have some of the fewest specimens, which indicates its importance,” Martin-Silverstone said in the Press release. “Finding out that there were more bones embedded within the rock, some of which were instrumental in identifying what type of pterosaur Ceoptera is, made this an even better find than initially thought. It brings us one step closer to understanding where and when else advanced pterosaurs evolved.”