London - To all those tourists hoping to spot the Loch Ness Monster, a few words of warning: Be careful what you wish for.
For if Nessie were to show up, she is likely to be a formidable 14ft long and equipped with hundreds of fearsome teeth.
A 170 million-year-old fossil of such a creature has been extracted from a lump of rock and identified as an ichthyosaur, a group of reptiles nicknamed “sea dragons”.
The monster was found on the Isle of Skye in 1966 by a local power station manager, Norrie Gillies, but technology did not exist at the time to remove it from the rock.
The ‘Storr Lochs Monster’ – named after the area of Skye where it was found – was preserved in National Museums Scotland’s storage facility.
But now a partnership between the museum, the University of Edinburgh and energy company SSE has enabled the fossil to be extracted from the rock, creating a clearer picture of the creature.
Sadly, the fossil’s discoverer, SSE power station manager Mr Gillies, died in 2011 aged 93, before he could see the full extent of the skeleton.
It is said to be the most complete skeleton of a sea-living reptile from the dinosaur age that has been found in Scotland. Dr Steve Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, said: ‘”eople don’t realise that real sea monsters used to exist. They were bigger, scarier and more fascinating than the myth of Nessie. The new fossil is one of them.
“It actually lived in Scotland 170 million years ago.”
Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the middle Jurassic period can be found, and it has been referred to as “Scotland’s dinosaur island”.
Dr Brusatte added: “Ichthyosaurs like the Storr Lochs Monster ruled the waves while dinosaurs thundered across the land.
“Their bones are exceptionally rare in Scotland, which makes this specimen one of the crown jewels of Scottish fossils.
“It’s all thanks to the keen eye of an amateur collector that this remarkable fossil was ever found in the first place, which goes to show that you don’t need an advanced degree to make huge scientific discoveries.”