Skye – the island that keeps on giving

Not for the first time Skye has been the focus of a major find of Jurassic-period fossils. This time it is a new species of marine reptile that has excited palaeontologists; previously remains of one of the world’s oldest turtles and spectacular dinosaur footprints have also been found on the island.



The newly discovered species of marine reptile dates back around 170 million years and was found in the northwest corner of Skye. Called Dearcmhara, it is thought to be unique to Scotland and was around four metres long from head to tail.

A collector generously donated the fossil bones he discovered and these were studied in a joint project by the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland, the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, Scottish Natural Heritage and Skye’s Staffin Museum.

The waterfall at the Kilt Rock near Staffin, Isle of Skye

The waterfall at the Kilt Rock near Staffin, Isle of Skye

The find has been given the full title of Dearcmhara shawcrossi. Dr Steve Brusatte, who works at the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, explained the reasoning behind the apparently unusual name: “It was found, not by a scientist, but by an amateur collector, Brian Shawcross, who donated it and worked with us and that’s why we named it after him.” The fossils bones of the new species were found back in 1959 by Brian but only studied in detail recently.

Brian actually handed in a clutch of fossil finds and although work is ongoing more exciting finds are possible. No matter what is found it is clear that although the fossil reptile record for the Middle Jurassic period is not well represented in the World – Scotland fills that gap.

Scottish Dinosaur facts.

  1. Smallest dinosaur footprint in the world comes from Skye.
  2. The only evidence worldwide of adult care of theropod dinosaur young comes from a set of footprints found on Skye.
  3. The earliest known titanosaur (sauropod dinosaur) comes from the Middle Jurassic of Skye.
  4. The earliest known eurypodan dinosaur (stegosaurs and ankylosaurs) comes from the Lower Bajocian (Middle Jurassic) of Skye.
  5. The only in situ trackway of a large theropod dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic that can be freely visited by the public can be seen on Skye.
  6. Dinosaur footprints on Skye have been compared to similar footprints in Wyoming, USA and shown to be indistinguishable.
  7. The first evidence of dinosaurs in Scotland was a single 50cm long footprint of an herbivorous dinosaur found in 1982 on Skye.
  8. It wasn’t until 1992 that the first dinosaur bones were found on Skye – a small Lower Jurassic theropod shin bone, and a large limb bone of a sauropod from the Middle Jurassic.
  9. The remains of at least seven different types of dinosaur are known from the Jurassic of Skye.
  10. More than 10% of the World’s Middle Jurassic dinosaur species and more than 15% of the Middle Jurassic dinosaur sites are on Skye.

So the extremely important role people play in reporting fossil finds of major scientific importance has once again been highlighted.  The team behind the recent studies continue to encourage anyone with material of this nature to bring it forward for study. The ‘carrot’ being dangled is that the finders could very well have any new species named in their honour.

Find out more at these links:

Image of Dearcmhara courtesy of Steve Brusatte from the GeoSciences Department of Edinburgh University

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