Triassic reptiles

Chirotherium footprint, Kildonan Isle of Arran. Image courtesy Angus Miller
Chirotherium footprint, Kildonan Isle of Arran. Image courtesy Angus Miller

Huge reptilian footprints on Arran and skulls from Elgin have shed light on some of the large land-living reptiles from the Triassic period.

The Chirotherium, a 12-foot long crocodile-like reptile, left footprint trails behind in four different places on the Isle of Arran, Scotland, where it lived around 270 million years ago. The footprints, some of them up to 40 centimetres in length complete with large talons, are the largest Chirotherium prints ever found on Earth. Arran at the time was part of the super-continent Pangaea, and Chirotherium lived in a hot, arid climate close to the sea.

Close up of a reptile trackway on a block of sandstone - Clashach Quarry - Image courtesy Colin Macfadyen, SNH
Reptile trackway on a block of sandstone, Clashach Quarry. Image courtesy Colin Macfadyen, SNH

Evidence of Chirotherium may be one of the most dramatic reptile finds in Scotland, but it is certainly not the only one. Dicynodonts were a group of toothless pig-sized, mammal-like reptiles, which thrived from the late Permian throughout the Triassic, 298 to 200 million years ago. Instead of teeth, the creatures had two tusks protruding from the front of their jaws, and cropped vegetation rather like a tortoise. Skulls and part-remains of Dicynodont fossils were discovered in a sandstone quarry in Elgin, Scotland, in the late 19th century.

IMG_3221Dr Hermione Cockburn, Scientific Director of Our Dynamic Earth says: I love the fossil footprints left behind by mysterious ancient reptiles as they roamed across the hot, arid landscape of sand dunes that covered Scotland back in Permian and Triassic times. It is often hard to work out exactly which animals made them because body fossils are rarely formed in these environments but for me that just adds to their appeal.