Rare, Cat-Sized Flying Reptile From Cretaceous Period Discovered

Posted: Sep 1 2016, 7:56am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 1 2016, 8:02am CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Rare, Cat-Sized Flying Reptile from Cretaceous Period Discovered
Credit: Mark Witton.

The new pterosuar is small-bodied which is unusual for flying reptiles from Cretaceous period which mostly had larger wings and bodies

Pterosaurs are an extinct group of reptiles that existed from Late Triassic to the end of Cretaceous period. These earliest vertebrates were also the first animals that evolved the ability to fly, featuring large wingspan up to 36 feet wide much like a small airplane flying across the sky.

Recently, paleontologists have discovered a new, rare kind of pterosaur specimen in the west coast of North America, which lived approximately 77 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period. It was the last segment of Mesozoic Era and as everyone knows, a mass extinction in which dinosaurs died out marked the end of that period. 

The most remarkable thing about the newfound pterosaur is that it is extremely small-sized, which is unusual as most pterosaurs from the Late Cretaceous had much larger bodies and wingspans. This extinct flying reptile was the size of cat with a wingspan of just 1.5 meters or 5 feet.

It has been believed that earliest pterosaurs were relatively small flying reptiles which evolved into pterosaurs with sturdy bodies, larger wings and longer tails over time. But the discovery of latest pterosaur fossil contradicts this theory and provides more insight into the anatomy of these successful Late Cretaceous pterosaurs.

“This new pterosaur is exciting because it suggests that small pterosaurs were present all the way until the end of the Cretaceous, and weren't outcompeted by birds. The hollow bones of pterosaurs are notoriously poorly preserved, and larger animals seem to be preferentially preserved in similarly aged Late Cretaceous ecosystems of North America. This suggests that a small pterosaur would very rarely be preserved, but not necessarily that they didn't exist." Lead author Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone from University of Southampton said in a statement.

The fossil remains of the specimen were originally discovered in 2009 in what is now British Colombia and comprised of a forelimb bone, spine and other fragments and these remains are being studied by different experts ever since. Experts confirm that the specimen was a fully grown pterosaur, not a baby or a juvenile. It was a genuine, small flying reptile.

“The specimen is far from the prettiest or most complete pterosaur fossil you’ll ever see, but it’s still an exciting and significant find. It's rare to find pterosaur fossils at all because their skeletons were lightweight and easily damaged once they died and the small ones are the rarest of all. But luck was on our side and several bones of this animal survived the preservation process.” Dr Mark Witton, a pterosaur expert at the University of Portsmouth said.

While the new pterosaur is still nameless, it provides an important example of the species diversity of pterosaurs, especially during the Late Cretaceous. 

“The absence of small juveniles of large species - which must have existed - in the fossil record is evidence of a preservational bias against small pterosaurs in the Late Cretaceous,” said Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone. 

“It adds to a growing set of evidence that the Late Cretaceous period was not dominated by large or giant species, and that smaller pterosaurs may have been well represented in this time.”



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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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