Scottish fossil identified as pterosaurs' flightless, cat-sized early ancestor
The study solves a 100-year-old mystery.
Fossils first discovered in northeast Scotland more than 100 years ago have been identified as belonging to an early ancestor of pterosaurs – the iconic flying reptiles of the dinosaur age.
Researchers based at National Museums Scotland identified Scleromochlus taylori by making casts of impressions left in sandstone by several specimens of the reptile found in northeast Scotland. They then CT scanned these impressions and recreated the skeletons of Scleromochlus using 3D modelling software.
This enabled them to piece together the fine details of the early reptiles’ anatomy and place them in the family tree of lagerpetids, the closest relatives to pterosaurs.
Scleromochlus was a small, cat-sized animal that lived in what is now Elgin in northeast Scotland, around 230 million years ago.
Identifying Scleromochlus had previously proved problematic due to the difficulty in correctly identifying the fine detail in its anatomy.
“It’s exciting to be able to resolve a debate that’s been going on for over a century,” said lead researcher Dr Davide Foffa, a former research associate at National Museums Scotland.
“But it is far more amazing to be able to see and understand an animal which lived 230 million years ago and its relationship with the first animals ever to have flown.”
Read more about dinosaurs:
Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.
May Half Price Sale
- Save up to 52% when you subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine.
- Risk - free offer! Cancel at any time when you subscribe via Direct Debit.
- FREE UK delivery.
- Stay up to date with the latest developments in the worlds of science and technology.