Sceptics beware - new fossil evidence suggests that the Loch Ness Monster may have once existed.
For more than a century, legions of tourists have hunted for ‘Nessie’, a huge marine creature rumoured to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.
While many lake-goers have claimed sightings of the monster, all supposed photographs of the beast have been debunked.
But new evidence suggests that Nessie may once have existed.
Is the Loch Ness monster real?
The popular image of Nessie - with a long neck and a tiny head - is based on ‘small plesiosaurs’, marine dinosaurs that went extinct 65 million years ago.
Scientists thought these creatures could only live in the ocean. But according to UK and Moroccan scientists, they may have been able to survive in fresh water.
These researchers have discovered the fossils of small plesiosaurs in a 100-million-year-old river system now part of the Sahara.
“We don’t really know why the plesiosaurs are in fresh water,” said Dr Nick Longrich from the University of Bath.
“It’s a bit controversial, but who’s to say that because we palaeontologists have always called them ‘marine reptiles’, they had to live in the sea? Lots of marine lineages invaded fresh water.”
There are many examples of saltwater species evolving to live in fresh water. Freshwater dolphins evolved at least four times - in the Ganges River, the Yangtze River, and twice in the Amazon.
In a press release, the University of Bath gave Nessie-hunters a glimmer of hope.
“What does this all mean for the Loch Ness Monster? On one level, it’s plausible,” the authors claim.
“Plesiosaurs weren’t confined to the seas, they did inhabit fresh water.”
But don’t get out the binoculars just yet, they warn.
“The fossil record also suggests that after almost a hundred and fifty million years, the last plesiosaurs finally died out at the same time as the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.”
One thing is for sure - you’re safer swimming in Loch Ness than you would be in prehistoric Morocco.
“What amazes me is that the ancient Moroccan river contained so many carnivores all living alongside each other,” said study co-author Dave Martill.
“This was no place to go for a swim.”