The discovery by Edinburgh palaeontologists reveals that an extinct group of aquatic reptiles evolved millions of years earlier than was previously thought.
The new species was a ten-foot-long animal that lived in the warm, shallow seas that covered much of what is now Europe. Powerful jaws and big, serrated teeth allowed it to feed on large prey, such as prehistoric squid.
Palaeontologists at the University of Edinburgh discovered the new species – which dates back 163 million years – by studying a heavily damaged fossil which was held in the Natural History Museum’s archives for almost 150 years. The ancient reptile – called Ieldraan melkshamensis – has been nicknamed the Melksham Monster.
Davide Foffa, at the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “It’s not the prettiest fossil in the world, but the Melksham Monster tells us a very important story about the evolution of these ancient crocodiles and how they became the apex predators in their ecosystem. Without the amazing preparation work done by our collaborators at the Natural History Museum, it would not have been possible to work out the anatomy of this challenging specimen.”