Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 10:07 UK

Hand-beast prints found on isle

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

A track way showing footprints
A metre length of tape lies next to a trackway of hand-beast prints

More than 100 marks left by a lizard called Isochirotherium - also known as the hand-beast - 270 million years ago have been uncovered on an island.

Dr Neil Clark, who has previously found evidence of ancient reptiles and dinosaurs on Skye, made the finds along with amateur enthusiasts on Arran.

The komodo dragon-sized creature English name was inspired by its unusual hand-like prints.

The footprints and track ways are in the south of the Firth of Clyde isle.

Sites include Sliddery, Levencorroch and Kildonan.

Dr Clark, of the University of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, and Hammy Corrance have co-authored a paper on the finds and their identification.

It has been published in the latest edition of the Scottish Journal of Geology.

Sundance Formation

Footprints were previously found on Arran, but the latest discoveries are the largest to be indentified so far.

The finds at Kildonan by locals Fiona Gorman and John and Jean Fitzpatrick at Sliddery, and during investigations by Dr Clark and Mr Corrance, have seen the number footprints and track ways reach more than 100.

The track ways are a collection of footprints and show the creatures' direction of travel.

Dr Clark said: "The purpose of paper was to draw people's attention that these exist."

"What is interesting about the prints, and the lizard that made them, is that the fifth toe is the equivalent of a pinkie on a hand, when you might expect it to be a thumb."

Komodo dragon
The hand-beast was similar in size to the komodo dragon

The palaeontologist will be leading a guide walk and talk of the prints during this weekend's Isle of Arran Wildlife Festival.

Last year, Dr Clark was involved in research that suggested footprints found on Skye and in Wyoming, in the US, were left by the same dinosaurs or a similar species.

He said some tracks at the two sites were "indistinguishable".

Great Britain and the United States formed part of the same land-mass hundreds of millions of years ago.

Dr Clark said further investigation into the link was needed.

The preliminary research by the curator of palaeontology and Dr Michael Brett-Surman, of the department of paleobiology at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, was also published in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

The scientists studied tracks from the Middle Jurassic - about 170 million years ago - found in rock formations.

Analysis included measurements of footprints for comparison, looking at the length of digits and the distance between them.

Data gathered suggested that smaller footprints from the Valtos Sandstone and Kilmaluag formations on Skye were indistinguishable from those in the Sundance Formation in Wyoming.

Four different groupings of dinosaur footprints were identified and the scientists said they may represent at least four different types of animal.

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