(CNN)Winged reptiles known as pterosaurs -- airplane-size creatures that swooped through the skies as dinosaurs walked the Earth -- were the first vertebrate animals to evolve powered flight.
'Exceedingly rare' fossil of giant flying reptile discovered on Scottish island
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A spectacular three-dimensional fossil of one previously unknown pterosaur has been discovered on the shore of the Isle of Skye, off the west coast of Scotland.
With a wingspan of more than 2.5 meters (8.2 feet), it's the biggest pterosaur ever discovered from the Jurassic period and last flapped its wings 170 million years ago. Its sharp teeth, which would have snapped up fish, still retain their shiny enamel.
In the Cretaceous period, immediately before the asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus reached the size of fighter jets, with a 12-meter (40-foot) wingspan.
However, this fossil discovery confirms pterosaurs, sometimes popularly known as pterodactyls, were already very large much earlier in their evolutionary history.
"Pterosaurs preserved in such quality are exceedingly rare and are usually reserved to select rock formations in Brazil and China. And yet, an enormous superbly preserved pterosaur emerged from a tidal platform in Scotland," said Natalia Jagielska, a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh. She was the lead author of a paper on the fossil that published Tuesday in the journal Current Biology.
The fossil was discovered during a field trip in 2017, after a University of Edinburgh doctoral student, Amelia Penny, spotted its jaw protruding from the rock at an area of Skye known in Gaelic as Rubha nam Brathairean, or Brothers' Point.
The pterosaur has been given the Gaelic name Dearc sgiathanach (pronounced jark ski-an-ach), which translates to "winged reptile."
"This is a superlative Scottish fossil. The preservation is amazing, far beyond any pterosaur ever found in Scotland and probably the best British skeleton found since the days of Mary Anning in the early 1800s," sa