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New species of Jurassic pterosaur found on the Isle of Skye

A previously unknown species of pterosaur has been found on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The research is shedding new light on the evolutionary journey of ancient flying reptiles. 

The discovery was recently announced by a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum, University of Bristol, University of Leicester, and University of Liverpool

Named as part of the Darwinoptera clade, the new pterosaur indicates a previously unappreciated diversity and geographical spread of this group from the late Early Jurassic through to the latest Jurassic period, spanning over 25 million years.

Ceoptera evansae

The species has been named Ceoptera evansae, with “Ceoptera” combining the Scottish Gaelic word for mist, “Cheò” (referencing the Isle of Skye’s nickname, the Isle of Mist), and the Latin term for wing, “-ptera.” 

The designation “evansae” honors Professor Susan E. Evans for her extensive contributions to anatomical and paleontological research, particularly on the Isle of Skye.

Pterosaur evolution 

The study of Ceoptera challenges existing models of early pterosaur evolution, suggesting that all major Jurassic pterosaur lineages had already emerged by the end of the Early Jurassic, much earlier than previously thought. 

Furthermore, it highlights the coexistence of pterosaurs with avialans, the dinosaur lineage that would give rise to modern birds, well into the late Jurassic.

“Ceoptera helps to narrow down the timing of several major events in the evolution of flying reptiles. Its appearance in the Middle Jurassic of the UK was a complete surprise, as most of its close relatives are from China. It shows that the advanced group of flying reptiles to which it belongs appeared earlier than we thought and quickly gained an almost worldwide distribution,” said study senior author Paul Barrett, a Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum. 

Study significance 

The discovery was made possible through the examination of a partial skeleton, which includes elements of the shoulders, wings, legs, and backbone. Due to the condition of the find, with many bones embedded within rock, advanced CT-scanning techniques were essential for study.

“The time period that Ceoptera is from is one of the most important periods of pterosaur evolution, and is also one in which we have some of the fewest specimens, indicating its significance,” said study lead author Liz Martin-Silverstone, a palaeobiologist at the University of Bristol.

“To find that there were more bones embedded within the rock, some of which were integral in identifying what kind of pterosaur Ceoptera is, made this an even better find than initially thought. It brings us one step closer to understanding where and when the more advanced pterosaurs evolved.” 

More about pterosaurs

Pterosaurs were a group of flying reptiles that lived during the age of dinosaurs, from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 228 to 66 million years ago. 

Unlike birds or bats, pterosaurs are not descendants of dinosaurs but are more closely related to modern reptiles. They were the first vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight, meaning they could flap their wings to fly rather than just glide.


The wings of pterosaurs were formed by a skin and muscle membrane that stretched from their extremely long fourth finger to their hind limbs. This design is quite distinct from that of birds, which have wings made of feathers, or bats, which have wings formed by membranes stretched between their fingers.

Size and appearance 

Pterosaurs varied greatly in size, from the small Nemicolopterus, with a wingspan of about 10 inches, to the enormous Quetzalcoatlus, which is among the largest known flying creatures with a wingspan estimated to be over 30 feet. 

Their bodies were adapted for flight, with hollow bones to reduce weight and large brains and eyes that likely helped them navigate through the air.


These creatures inhabited a variety of ecosystems, from coastal and marine environments to inland habitats. Their diets were as diverse as their habitats; some species had long, narrow beaks for fishing, while others had short, strong beaks for crushing hard-shelled insects.


Despite their successful adaptation to flight and dominance in the skies for millions of years, pterosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, around the same time as the dinosaurs. 

This extinction event, known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event, is thought to have been caused by a combination of volcanic activity, climate change, and the impact of a large asteroid or comet on Earth.

Fossil record 

The fossil record for pterosaurs, while not as complete as that of dinosaurs, has provided significant insights into their diversity, anatomy, and lifestyle. Advances in technology and new discoveries continue to shed light on these fascinating creatures, offering a glimpse into the complexity of prehistoric life on Earth.

Image Credit: © NHM & Witton 2021

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