SCIENTISTS have discovered a new species of pterosaur on a Scottish island.

Named Ceoptera evansae, the winged reptile lived between 168 to 166 million years ago during the Middle Jurassic period.

Palaeontologists spotted the fossil remains in 2006 during a field trip to Elgol, on the south-west coast of the Isle of Skye.

Since then, the team have spent years physically preparing the specimen and taking scans of the bones, some of which remain completely embedded in rock.

The National:

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Despite the skeleton being incomplete – with only parts of the shoulders, wings, legs and backbone remaining – the researchers said that it provides key insights into the evolutionary history and diversity of pterosaurs.

They said the new species belongs to a group of pterosaurs known as Darwinoptera, with many fossils also found in China.

The findings, published in the Journal Of Vertebrate Paleontology, suggest that Darwinoptera may have been considerably more diverse than previously thought, persisting for more than 25 million years.

Professor Paul Barrett, merit researcher at the Natural History Museum, said: “Ceoptera helps to narrow down the timing of several major 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. 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.”

Ceoptera evansae gets the first part of its name from the Scottish Gaelic word “cheo”, meaning mist or fog, and the Latin word “ptera”, meaning wing.

The second part, evansae, honours British palaeontologist Professor Susan E Evans for her years of scientific work, particularly on the Isle of Skye.

As the Elgol coastal site is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the team led by Prof Barrett could only collect specimens from rocks that had fallen on to the beach.

But while crawling over boulders to examine these fossils, the researchers noticed a few bones sticking out, which has now been revealed as the new pterosaur.

The researchers said that pterosaur fossils from the Middle Jurassic period are rare and mostly incomplete, hindering attempts to understand more about how these creatures evolved.

Lead author Dr Liz Martin-Silverstone, a palaeobiologist from the University of Bristol, said: “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.

“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.”