New pterosaur discovered on Isle of Skye

Speed, bonny boat, like a pterosaur on the wing…

Palaeontologists have declared a new species of pterosaur, found on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

They’ve published their discovery in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.

The pterosaur, Ceoptera evansae, hails from the Middle Jurassic period, roughly 170 million years ago. This discovery has implications for the Darwinoptera clade it belongs to, showing it was both more diverse and existed for a longer time than previously understood.

Stone with pterosaur fossil in it
Close up on part of the skeleton of Ceoptera evansae showing the shoulder region, parts of the wing and verterbae. Credit: Trustees of Natural History Museum

Ceoptera helps to narrow down the timing of several major events in the evolution of flying reptiles,” says senior author Professor Paul Barrett, a researcher at the UK’s Natural History Museum.

“Its appearance in the Middle Jurassic of the UK was a complete surprise, as most of its close relatives are from China.

“It shows that the advanced group of flying reptiles to which it belongs appeared earlier than we thought and quickly gained an almost worldwide distribution.”

The pterosaur fossil is a partial skeleton, with parts of shoulders, wings, legs, and backbone. The researchers studied it using a CT scan as most of the bones were completely encased in rocks.

3d pterosaur skeleton models
3D models of the pterosaur skeleton, taken with CT scanning. Credit: Natural History Museum

Its genus name (Ceoptera) comes from the Scottish gaelic Cheò, which means mist – the Isle of Skye is often called Eilean a’ Cheò, or Island of Mist, and the Latin -ptera, which means wing. The species name (Evansae) comes from palaeontologist Professor Susan Evans, who has done significant research on the Isle of Skye.

“The time period that Ceoptera is from is one of the most important periods of pterosaur evolution, and is also one in which we have some of the fewest specimens, indicating its significance,” says lead author Dr Liz Martin-Silverstone, a palaeobiologist from the University of Bristol, UK.

“To find that there were more bones embedded within the rock, some of which were integral in identifying what kind of pterosaur Ceoptera is, made this an even better find than initially thought.

“It brings us one step closer to understanding where and when the more advanced pterosaurs evolved.”

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