Remains of ‘world’s largest Jurassic pterosaur’ recovered in Scotland

It might be best known today for its otters and puffins but 170m years ago the Isle of Skye was home to an enormous flying reptile with a wingspan bigger than a kingsize bed, researchers have revealed.

Fossil hunters in Scotland say they have recovered the remains of the world’s largest Jurassic pterosaur, adding the creature – known informally as a pterodactyl – also boasted a mouthful of sharp teeth for spearing and trapping fish.

With a wingspan of about 2.5 metres or larger – around the size of the largest flying birds today, such as the wandering albatross – the creature sheds new light on the evolution of pterosaurs, given they were not thought to have reached such a size until about 25m years later.

“When this thing was living about 170m years ago, it was the largest animal that had ever flown, at least that we know of,” said Prof Steve Brusatte, a co-author of the research from the University of Edinburgh.

“We’ve really dragged back in time the evolution of large pterosaurs,” he said.

Brusatte added previous finds suggested pterosaurs did not grow much larger than about 1.6-1.8 metres in wingspan during the Jurassic, only reaching much larger sizes during the Cretaceous period.

“There were pterosaurs living at the end of the Cretaceous when the asteroid hit that were the size of fighter jets,” said Brusatte, referring to the mass extinction 66m years ago that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs, pterosaurs and myriad other creatures.

The latest discovery calls into question the idea competition with birds may have initially driven the boom in pterosaur size.

“Birds evolved from dinosaurs around the time when this [pterosaur] was living,” said Brusatte, although he added birds may have exerted evolutionary pressures for them to grow larger still.

65 million years ago the impact of an asteroid with the Earth wiped out the dinosaurs, pterosaurs and many other species.
65 million years ago the impact of an asteroid with the Earth wiped out the dinosaurs, pterosaurs and many other species. Photograph: Mark Garlick/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images/Science Photo…

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