Name: Dearcmhara shawcrossi
Meaning: Dearcmhara (pronounced “jark vara”) is the Scottish Gaelic word for “marine lizard”, while shawcrossi honours Brian Shawcross – an amateur collector who found the fossil and donated it to a museum.
Age: Jurassic, about 170 million years old.
Where in the world?: Found at Bearreraig Bay, Scotland.
What sort of critter?: Not a dinosaur, but a species of fish-like marine reptile called an ichthyosaur.
Size: Around 14 feet long.
How much of the ichthyosaur’s body is known?: An upper arm bone and three vertebrae from the back and tail.
Claim to fame: In addition to being one of the few Scottish ichthyosaurs donated to researchers by an amateur collector rather than put in a private collection, Dearcmhara helps palaeontologists track a critical shift in ichthyosaur history. Prior to 175 million years ago most of the ichthyosaurs swimming the waters of prehistoric Europe were relatively archaic forms, and by 164 million years ago they had all been replaced by a variety of big-eyed species belonging to a group called ophthalmosaurids. One of the more archaic forms, the 170 million year old Dearcmhara helps fill the gap and shows that the more archaic ichthyosaurs held on for a few million years more before being replaced.
Brusatte, S., Young, M., Challands, T., Clark, N., Fischer, V., Fraser, N., Liston, J., MacFayden, C., Ross, D., Walsh, S., Wilkinson, M. 2015. Ichthyosaurs from the Jurassic of Skye, Scotland. Scottish Journal of Geology. doi: 10.1144/sjg2014-018