Long-lost 'relative' of the Loch Ness Monster discovered

Credit: Todd Marshall/PA Wire

A long-lost relative of Scotland's most famous monster, Nessie, may have been discovered - not in Loch Ness, but on the Isle of Skye.

The sea monster lived some 170 million years ago in waters considerably warmer and shallower than the chilly depths any modern Scottish Beastie may have to endure.

It has been identified as a new species of ichthyosaur, a large dolphin-like marine reptile that grew up to 14 feet long.

Scientists studied fossil fragments of skulls, teeth, vertebrae and an upper arm bone unearthed from Skye in the past 50 years.

Several of the fossils came from ichthyosaurs, including one previously unknown species, named Dearcmhara shawcrossi.

Dearcmhara, pronounced "jarkvara", is Scottish gaelic for marine lizard. The name shawcrossi was chosen in honour of amateur fossil hunter Brian Shawcross, who found the creature's remains on Skye's Bearreraig Bay in 1959.

Throughout the Jurassic Period, much of Skye was under water. It was joined to the rest of the UK and part of a large island positioned between landmasses that drifted apart to become Europe and North America.

Lead researcher Dr Steve Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh's School of Geosciences, said:

A description of the creature appears in the Scottish Journal of Geology.Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period can be found.

Scientists believe discoveries made there could provide valuable insights into how marine reptiles evolved.

Dr Nick Fraser, from National Museums Scotland, said:

The fossil bones of the ichthyosaur will be exhibited for one day at the Our Dynamic Earth visitor attraction in Edinburgh on Sunday, January 18.