Fossilised cat-sized reptile found in Scotland was ‘early relative of pterosaurs’

A fossilised reptile unearthed in Scotland lived during the age of dinosaurs and was closely related to an extinct group of flying reptiles known as pterosaurs, new research suggests.

The small cat-sized creature, named Scleromochlus taylori, is thought to have roamed the planet somewhere between 240 to 210 million years ago.

Pterosaurs were one of the first animals to evolve powered flight and the researchers believe that Scleromochlus may hold a key place in its evolutionary tree.

Hide Ad

The palaeontologists said their findings, published in the journal Nature, could help shed more light on the origins of pterosaurs.

An artist's impression issued by Nature of a Scleromochlus taylori, which was roaming the Morayshire countryside more than 200 million years ago. (Photo: Gabriel Ugueto/Nature)
Hide Ad

Sterling Nesbitt, an associate professor at Virgina Tech in the US and one of the authors on the study, said: “Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight and for nearly two centuries, we did not know their closest relatives.

“Now we can start filling in their evolutionary history with the discovery of tiny close relatives that enhance our knowledge about how they lived and where they came from.”

Hide Ad

Pterosaurs were close cousins of dinosaurs who evolved on a separate branch of the reptile family tree.

Some species were as large as fighter jets while others were as small as paper planes.

Hide Ad
It took experts 100 years to formally identify the fossilised remains of Scleromochlus taylori. (Photo: Paul Barrett/Natural History Museum)

Scleromochlus, meanwhile, was no more than 20cm long.

Hide Ad

It had a large head, a long tail, a short neck, a slender body, and stood on spindly legs.

Fossilised remains of the creature were first discovered more than 100 years ago near Elgin in Morayshire.

Hide Ad

However, the fossil was poorly preserved in sandstone so scientists were unable to study its anatomical features in detail.

A cast of the Late Triassic period fossil
Hide Ad

This led to debates amongst experts as to whether Scleromochlus was closer to pter