The discovery of a new super-predator species could shine new light on the origins of the Loch Ness Monster, it has been claimed.
Tyrannoneustes lythrodectikos — which means blood-biting tyrant swimmer — were marine predators similar to dolphins, with serrated teeth and a large gaping jaw suited to feeding on large-bodied prey.
Its ancient bones were found in a clay pit near Peterborough in the early 1900s and a specimen is held by the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University.
Scientists at Edinburgh University suggested earlier this week the species was distantly related to the modern-day crocodile after studying its prehistoric skeleton.
Now Loch Ness businessman Willie Cameron believes the reptile may have been the same creature that local people had been reporting from the loch edge over the years.
He said: "I’m not saying that it was there one week ago, two weeks ago, or even 100 years ago. I’m just saying previous sightings could have been something like this."
Mr Cameron, who runs Loch Ness Marketing, added the idea of a crocodile-type creature would fit in with some sightings of the monster without a dorsal fin — countering the suggestion that Nessie is an Atlantic sturgeon, a fish which can grow up to 12ft long.
It could also reflect one of the thousands of unexplained sightings adding to the Nessie mystery. In February 1932 it was reported that Miss K MacDonald saw a "crocodile-like" creature making its way up the River Ness, which was in spate, towards the loch. The creature had a short neck, long snout and some reports suggested tusks.
But suggestions of a link to Nessie have been discounted as "just not tenable" by one of the world’s leading authorities on dinosaurs, Angela Milner.
Ms Milner, who is a retired research associate with the Natural History Museum, said there was "no way" that a crocodile could survive in the chilly waters of Loch Ness.
"There are quite a number of fossils already known from these clay pits and they are 170 million years old but at that time those things were living in shallow fairly warm water, semi-tropical seas," she said. "Crocodiles do not like our climate. We’re talking about things that have been perhaps seen in Loch Ness — no way could a crocodile survive in it."
Loch Ness’s own authority on the subject, Adrian Shine from the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition at Drumnadrochit, said: "Of course, it does not fit the popular stereotype of the iconic long-necked plesiosaur that turned people on, but we could enter a whole new debate as to what extent plesiosaurs were able to raise their long-necks swan-like above the water."