THEY may not be as tasty as the kind munched in fish suppers but fossil fish have just been named Scotland’s favourite fossil.

Beating off tough competition – including evidence that dinosaurs once roamed these parts – the fish came first in a poll organised by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum to celebrate Scotland’s rich fossil heritage.

Hundreds of people chose Devonian fish over the jurassic dinosaurs of the Isle of Skye, early tetrapods, trilobites and fossil trees.

The winner was announced yesterday at Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum and among those celebrating were the Friends of Hugh Miller, whose study of the fossils he found near his Black Isle home helped popularise geology.

He discovered many examples of Devonian fish which record the ‘Age of Fish’, when fish started to develop and diversify.

“Hugh Miller, one of the great pioneers and popularisers of geology as a science, would be surprised, and doubtless very pleased, to see his Devonian fossil fish selected as Scotland’s favourite fossils,” said Martin Gostwick, secretary of the Friends of Hugh Miller. “We will be celebrating this honour on his behalf at his museum in Cromarty, where some of his most striking finds are displayed.”

The news was also welcomed by Dr Tom Challands, teaching fellow at Edinburgh University, who said fossil fish were a great source of scientific knowledge, with Scotland being well known globally for its many examples.

“They are really historically important,” he said. “We have been studying them for 184 years and we are still finding out new things about them which frequently make headline news.

“For example, the first evidence of penetrative sex was found in a Scottish fossil fish discovered on Orkney.

“Hugh Miller discovered a lot of them and some of them are named after him. “They are very important because they lived at a time when fish were evolving into land animals so it was a very transitional, very experimental time. Some started to breathe air for the first time and their brains started to evolve rapidly.

“It was probably the most important period of time for backboned animals and Scotland has a lot of rich diversity of these creatures.”

Fossil fish can still be found on the streets of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee on paving stones made from the stone excavated in Caithness quarries. The biggest one, measuring one and a half feet, was found on the pavement outside the Scottish Parliament where people had been walking over it every day.

Added Dr Challands: “They are different from the fish you get on fish and chips as they are basically our ancestors.”

Neil Clark, curator of palaeontology at the Hunterian Museum, said: “It is most appropriate that Scotland should be voting for its most popular fossil. Scotland has one of the most important fossil heritages in the world, bridging what were wide chasms in our knowledge of the evolutionary history of life on Earth, and providing us with some of the most significant and aesthetic discoveries ever found. It is also a celebration of those collectors who have provided us with these fascinating fossils, and without whom the science of palaeontology would barely exist.”

A spokesman for Scotland’s Geodiversity Forum said: “Scotland has amazing fossils, with a huge variety of different species. From giant sea scorpions and dinosaurs to delicate graptolites, Scotland has gathered a fantastic diversity of fossil types as it has travelled across the globe over hundreds of millions of years. Many of these species are unique to Scotland, and new finds are still being made that close important gaps in the fossil record.”