“Tantalizing bones and footprints of dinosaurs have been found in several Early-Middle Jurassic units, making Scotland one of the rare places in the world to yield dinosaurs from this under-sampled time,” wrote lead author Stephen Brusatte in a study published on Sunday in the Scottish Journal of Geology. But the sea monster, which lived around 170 million years ago, was a little bit different than those other finds. “It looks like a dinosaur, but it isn’t technically a dinosaur,” Brusatte told NPR. “Dinosaurs didn’t live in the ocean. And it’s the first of these sea-living, enormous, colossal top-of-the food-chain reptiles that’s ever been found in Scotland. It was about motorboat size … about 14 or 15 feet long.”
Named Dearcmhara shawcrossi, it was indeed the big fish in Scotland’s seas, prowling the coast’s shallow, warm waters with a mouth full of teeth and a taste for smaller fish. But how is that the scientists were able to discover a sea creature such as this on land? During the Jurassic Period, much of the Isle of Skye was underwater, Brusatte said in a news release, and was positioned between two giant masses of land that would eventually separate to become Europe and North America.
“During the time of the dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats,” Brusatte said in a University of Edinburgh press release. And one of those motor boats was the Dearcmhara, which is Scottish Gaelic for “marine lizard” and is pronounced “jark vara.”
“It is from Scotland, and is the first uniquely Scottish marine reptile ever discovered and studied,” Brusatte added in an interview with Reuters. “Many other marine reptile fossils have been found in Scotland, but the vast majority of these have disappeared into private collections or been sold.”
What made this one so special, he said, was the fact it was discovered in 1959 by an enthusiastic amateur sleuthing for bones who gamely turned them over to research. That man’s name was Brian Shawcross, for whom the sea lizard is named. “It was found by a private collector who did a great thing, donated it to a museum and worked with scientists,” Brusatte added.
Now if only someone can find Nessie’s bones, too.