Researchers have found a fossilized reptile, in Scotland, that lived during the age of dinosaurs. The reptile was closely related to an extinct group of flying reptiles known as pterosaurs—according to a study published in the journal Nature. The Independent reported that this small cat-sized creature, named Scleromochlus taylori, is assumed to have existed on the Earth approximately 240 to 210 million years ago.
Researchers believed that their findings “could help shed more light on the origins of pterosaurs.” They are assumed to be one of the first animals to evolve powered flight, and researchers believe that Scleromochlus may hold an important place in its evolutionary tree.
Pterosaurs–were close cousins of dinosaurs–who evolved as a separate branch of the reptile family tree. Some species were as large as fighter jet aeroplanes while others were as small as paper planes. Scleromochlus, meanwhile, was approximately 20cm long and barely grew any bigger than that.
It had a large head, a long tail, a short neck, and a slender body. It stood on spindly, thin legs. Sterling Nesbitt, an associate professor at Virginia Tech in the US and one of the authors of the study, said, “Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight and for nearly two centuries, we did not know their closest relatives.”
The creature’s fossils were first discovered more than 100 years ago in the Morayshire region of northeast Scotland, near the town of Elgin. Unfortunately, the fossils were poorly preserved in sandstone and scientists were unable to study their anatomical features in detail.
The palaeontologists involved in the study used a CT scan – “an imaging technique usually used by medical professionals to obtain internal images of the body”– to reconstruct the skeleton of the Scleromochlus. The findings during the unearthing suggest the reptile may have belonged to Pterosauromorpha – the group that includes pterosaurs and a group of small reptiles called lagerpetids. The scientists believe their work supports the hypothesis that “pterosaurs evolved from small, likely two-legged ancestors.”