A new pterosaur was discovered in British Columbia, and it is much smaller than we tend to think of dinosaurs as being. These new fossils show that the flying dinosaur lived about 77 million years ago. It had a 5-foot wingspan, a length of one foot and was probably no larger than a house cat. It is also the first of its kind found on North America's west coast, meaning there could be more.
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There has yet to be a scientific name, the fossils show that it was likely alive during the Late Cretaceous area, according to the study.
Now, pterosaurs aren't actually dinosaurs, nor are they birds. Instead, they are a unique reptile that lived from about 228 million years ago to 66 million years ago.
There were some missing pieces and badly preserved fossils because they had hollow bones, according to the study's lead author, Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone. Still, they were no doubt a member of the pterosaur family.
The bones were exceptionally small, but they believe that it was fully grown according to an interview with Live Science.
"The general idea is that the end of the Cretaceous had these giant, 10-m [33 feet] wingspan pterosaurs taking over the skies," Martin-Silverstone said. "This reminds us there were other smaller pterosaurs out there, occupying other niches."
The time period was "a strange time for pterosaur evolution," said study co-author Mark Witton, a paleontologist. Pterosaurs were often bigger than ever before. "It wasn't until the end of the Cretaceous when the biggest pterosaurs emerged, with the longest necks — about 3 m [10 feet] — the biggest wingspans, and body mass [of] probably 250 kilograms [551 lbs.]. Some were as big as giraffes, with wingspans comparable to hang gliders or small planes," Witton explained.
"That was a point in time where we saw radiation in lots of different pterosaur groups – waders, filter feeders, terrestrial forms picking up food on the ground, dedicated scavengers. The end of the Cretaceous was such a contrast to that, when there were only two or three groups left," Witton said.
During that time, the smaller forms began to disappear. "It's almost like there was a shift in the average. The whole size range shifted upward, so we started to lose a lot of the smaller ones," Witton told Live Science.
There are a few explanations for why this verson would be smaller and why there are so few examples of small pterosaurs, but very few of them seem to stick. "What we have now — it's not enough to understand this weird phenomenon at the end of the Cretaceous, where there aren't any small pterosaurs," Witton said. "There are so many things in museums that people aren't looking out for. What we want to do is put these things on the radar of researchers and curators, so we can start to build up a good-quality data set of these small specimens."
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To read more, check out the whole study in Royal Society Open Science.