World’s largest flying animal fossil found. The skeleton of the largest flying animal in the Middle Jurassic period has been found in the Sky Isle of Scotland. Researchers say that it is one of the best-preserved fossils in British history.
Scotland is famous for cloudy weather and incessant rain. 17 million years ago it was hotter and hotter. And flying in his sky were giant reptiles armed with huge wings of two and a half meters in length.
Researchers have discovered this from the discovery of a fossil in the Isle of Skye in north-west Scotland. In the findings of that discovery published in the Journal of Current Biology recently, it has been told that it was the largest pterosaur of the Middle Jurassic period.
The new species has been named – Jark SkyAnac. It is a word of Scottish Gaelic origin that has two meanings – “winged reptile” or “reptile of the sky.”
Paleontologist Stephen Brusatte told DW, the skeleton found is a top-class Scottie fossil. Stephen, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, was the leader of the National Geographic Society-funded expedition that discovered “Jark” in 2017.
Noting the merits of the fossil’s preserved state, he says that “the skeleton was more massive than any pterosaur found in Scotland and is probably the best terrestrial skeleton ever found since the days of Mary Anning in the early 19th century.”
Mary Anning was a famous English paleontologist of the early 19th century. He had discovered many fossils. In which was also the first pterosaur skeleton found outside Germany.
These are flying reptiles, not dinosaurs
Flying reptiles, pterosaurs or pterodactyls were in existence from the end of the Triassic period 22.8 million years ago to the end of the Cretaceous period, 660 million years ago. At the same time, an asteroid had more or less destroyed all life on Earth. Pterosaurs were the first vertebrate animals to fly. Those who grew up watching the film series “The Land Before Time” will already be aware of this because one of the main characters in that film, Petri, was a pterosaur.
Although it sounds like pterosaurs, they are not dinosaurs. They are of course their close brothers and descended from a different branch of the same reptile family tree. Before the discovery of this fossil, scientists thought that pterosaurs were barely larger than 1.6 meters between the Triassic and Jurassic periods. However, Brusatte now says, “We now know that they had the potential to be even bigger.”
an extremely rare fossil
In 2017, this fossil was seen by the then PhD student Emilia Penney at a place called Brothers Point on Sky Isle. He had seen a part of the jaw and teeth protruding on a limestone.
Brusatte says the team members were even more thrilled and excited when they discovered that it was not just a skull but a complete skeleton. He told that it was a big challenge to get the fossils out of the rock because the waves were also fast rising so they had to wait till midnight when the water receded and after that the work of cutting the rock could be completed.
The fossil had to be left there at night. The next morning the entire excavation started. According to Brusatte, they were praying that the precious fossil should not be crushed in this affair.
Natalia Jagielska, lead author of the research report, told DW that another thing that makes this fossil so rare is that fossils from the Middle Jurassic period are hard to find, and pterosaurs are even more difficult to find.
“They are very rarely preserved in the fossil record. They are very fragile, their bones are too thin and break,” says Natalia.
what would Jark look like?
What would Jark SkyAnnack look like after all? The work of preserving his fossil was of a high standard, yet many parts of it could not be found. That’s why, according to Jagielska, it took some espionage or some forensic type of work to get an idea of his appearance. The team tried to fill in the blanks and solve the puzzle with the help of many other pterosaur fossils kept in many different museums.
Jagielska is also a painter. He has depicted pterosaurs as some kind of creature with four legs and two and a half meter wide wings. He almost looks like an albatross. His front hands were transformed into wings and were much larger than the hind legs. And it had four fingers, the fourth one wide enough to allow it to spread its webbed wings, like today’s bats. It also had a long tail for balance and very sharp teeth, which may have been for fishing.
Natalia Jagielska showing fossil fragments
An in-depth study of his skull revealed that he may have had very sharp eyesight and a good sense of balance. According to Jagielska, both these qualities are very helpful for the flying creature.
The study of the fossil also revealed that the skeleton was not that of an adult. Scouting the bones under a microscope, researchers in Scotland found that Jark Skyeunack was just getting older.
Jagielska says that all she wants people who come to see the fossil on display in the National Museum of Scotland is to think for a moment that before them there was an animal flying in the skies of Scotland 170 million years ago. The relics “preserved with all their merits” are kept.