Prehistoric bones discovered more than a century ago near Peterborough have been revealed as a new species of ocean predator, according to scientists.
The partial skeleton, including a jawbone and teeth, has been identified as belonging to a group of crocodiles that were similar to dolphins.
An amateur palaeontologist found the specimen in a clay pit near Peterborough in the early 1900s, and it has since been held by The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow.
The newly confirmed species, which was examined by a team of experts led by the University of Edinburgh, helps scientists better understand how marine reptiles were evolving about 165 million years ago.
They have named the animal tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos, meaning “blood-biting tyrant swimmer”.
Dr Mark Young, of the University of Edinburgh’s school of geosciences, who led the study, said: “It is satisfying to be able to classify a specimen that has been unexamined for more than 100 years, and doubly so to find that this discovery improves our understanding of the evolution of marine reptiles.”
The animal’s pointed, serrated teeth and large gaping jaw meant it would have been suited to feeding on large-bodied prey. The species is the oldest-known member of this group of animals.
Researchers said it represents a missing link between marine crocodiles that fed on small prey, and others that were similar to modern-day killer whales, which fed on larger prey.
Scientists were able to reach their conclusions by studying the size and shape of the jawbone and teeth, which showed that the animal had a wide gap and shearing bite.
Dr Neil Clark, palaeontology curator at The Hunterian, said: “Little research has been done on this specimen since it was first listed in 1919.
“It is comforting to know that new species can still be found in museums as new research is carried out on old collections.
“It is not just the new species that are important, but an increase in our understanding of how life evolved and the variety of life forms that existed 163 million years ago in the warm Jurassic seas around what is now Britain.”
The study is being published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.