Scotland's Loch Ness Monster remains a mythical mystery, but a ferocious-looking creature that was definitely fact and not fiction -- the Storr Lochs Monster -- has just been unveiled by scientists.
The remains of the Storr Lochs Monster now comprise the most complete skeleton of a sea-living reptile from the Age of Dinosaurs that has ever been discovered in Scotland, according to Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh and his colleagues. The scientists say that its fossils were originally found on the Isle of Skye by Norrie Gillies, the then manager of the SSE Storr Lochs Power Station who has since died at age 93.
The Storr Lochs Monster has been identified as an ichthyosaur. These were a family of now-extinct marine reptiles that thrived in prehistoric seas at the same time that dinosaurs dominated terrestrial ecosystems.
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"Ichthyosaurs like the Storr Lochs Monster ruled the waves while dinosaurs thundered across the land," Brusatte said in a press release. "Their bones are exceptionally rare in Scotland, which makes this specimen one of the crown jewels of Scottish fossils. It's all thanks to the keen eye of an amateur collector that this remarkable fossil was ever found in the first place, which goes to show that you don't need an advanced degree to make huge scientific discoveries."
The researchers -- due to a partnership between the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland and the energy company SSE -- were able to extract the ichthyosaur's remains from the rock that encased it for millions of years.
The fossils show that the over 13-feet-long Storr Lochs Monster was an especially toothy ichthyosaur that lived around 170 million years ago. When alive, it would use its pointed head filled with hundreds of cone-shaped teeth to feast on fish and squid, and probably almost anything else that had the misfortune of coming into its way.
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Further research may reveal how ichthyosaurs evolved during the Middle Jurassic Period (176 to 161 million years ago), a part of Earth's history that has long been shrouded in mystery owing to a lack of fossil evidence. The Isle of Skye, which is connected to Scotland's northwest coast by bridge, is one of the few places in the world where fossils from this period can be found.
Nick Fraser of National Museums Scotland's natural sciences division said, "The Storr Lochs Monster highlights the rich fossil heritage of Skye."
SSE's Michael Pibworth hopes that the Storr Lochs Monster "will indeed prove to be a 'crown jewel' in Scotland's Jurassic history and thanks to the foresight of the Gillies family, enjoyed by generations to come."
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