Tag Archives: #pterosaur

Researchers Uncovered Australia’s Largest and Fearsome Flying Reptile (Paleontology)

Australia’s largest flying reptile has been uncovered, a pterosaur with an estimated seven-metre wingspan that soared like a dragon above the ancient, vast inland sea once covering much of outback Queensland.

University of Queensland PhD candidate Tim Richards, from the Dinosaur Lab in UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, led a research team that analysed a fossil of the creature’s jaw, discovered on Wanamara Country, near Richmond in North West Queensland.

“It’s the closest thing we have to a real life dragon,” Mr Richards said.

Tim Richards with the skull of an anhanguerian pterosaur. © Tim Richards

“The new pterosaur, which we named Thapunngaka shawi, would have been a fearsome beast, with a spear-like mouth and a wingspan around seven metres.

“It was essentially just a skull with a long neck, bolted on a pair of long wings.

“This thing would have been quite savage.

“It would have cast a great shadow over some quivering little dinosaur that wouldn’t have heard it until it was too late.”

Mr Richards said the skull alone would have been just over one metre long, containing around 40 teeth, perfectly suited to grasping the many fishes known to inhabit Queensland’s no-longer-existent Eromanga Sea.

Reconstruction of the skull of Thapunngaka shawi (KKF494). From Richards et al. (2021) © Tim Richards

“It’s tempting to think it may have swooped like a magpie during mating season, making your local magpie swoop look pretty trivial – no amount of zip ties would have saved you.

“Though, to be clear, it was nothing like a bird, or even a bat – Pterosaurs were a successful and diverse group of reptiles – the very first back-boned animals to take a stab at powered flight.”

The new species belonged to a group of pterosaurs known as anhanguerians, which inhabited every continent during the latter part of the Age of Dinosaurs.

Being perfectly adapted to powered flight, pterosaurs had thin-walled and relatively hollow bones.

Given these adaptations their fossilised remains are rare and often poorly preserved.

Hypothetical outlines of Australian pterosaurs showing relative wingspan sizes. 1.8 m human for scale. © Tim Richards.

“It’s quite amazing fossils of these animals exist at all,” Mr Richards said.

“By world standards, the Australian pterosaur record is poor, but the discovery of Thapunngaka contributes greatly to our understanding of Australian pterosaur diversity.”

It is only the third species of anhanguerian pterosaur known from Australia, with all three species hailing from western Queensland.

Dr Steve Salisbury, co-author on the paper and Mr Richard’s PhD supervisor, said what was particularly striking about this new species of anhanguerian was the massive size of the bony crest on its lower jaw, which it presumably had on the upper jaw as well.

“These crests probably played a role in the flight dynamics of these creatures, and hopefully future research will deliver more definitive answers,” Dr Salisbury said.

The fossil was found in a quarry just northwest of Richmond in June 2011 by Len Shaw, a local fossicker who has been ‘scratching around’ in the area for decades.

Hypothetical outline of Thapunngaka shawi with a 7 m wingspan, alongside a wedge-tailed eagle (2.5 m wingspan) and a hang-glider (10 m ‘wingspan’). © Tim Richards

The name of the new species honours the First Nations peoples of the Richmond area where the fossil was found, incorporating words from the now-extinct language of the Wanamara Nation.

“The genus name, Thapunngaka, incorporates thapun [ta-boon] and ngaka [nga-ga], the Wanamara words for ‘spear’ and ‘mouth’, respectively,” Dr Salisbury said.

“The species name, shawi, honours the fossil’s discoverer Len Shaw, so the name means ‘Shaw’s spear mouth’.”

The fossil of Thapunngaka shawi is on display at Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond.

The research has been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1946068).

Featured image: Artist’s impression of the fearsome Thapunngaka shawi. © Adobe stock.

Reference: Łukasz Czepiński, Dawid Dróżdż, Tomasz Szczygielski, Mateusz Tałanda, Wojciech Pawlak, Antoni Lewczuk, Adam Rytel & Tomasz Sulej (2021) An Upper Triassic Terrestrial Vertebrate Assemblage from the Forgotten Kocury Locality (Poland) with a New Aetosaur Taxon, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1898977

Provided by University of Queensland

Gigantic Flying Pterosaurs Had Spoked Vertebrae to Support Their ‘Ridiculously Long’ Necks (Paleontology)

Little is known about azhdarchid pterosaurs, gigantic flying reptiles with impressive wingspans of up to 12 meters. Cousins of dinosaurs and the largest animals ever to fly, they first appeared in the fossil record in the Late Triassic about 225 million years ago and disappeared again at the end of the Cretaceous period about 66 million years ago. One of their most notable features for such a large flighted animal was a neck longer than that of a giraffe. Now, researchers report an unexpected discovery in the journal iScience on April 14: their thin neck vertebrae got their strength from an intricate internal structure unlike anything that’s been seen before.

“One of our most important findings is the arrangement of cross-struts within the vertebral centrum,” says Dave Martill of the University of Portsmouth, UK. “It is unlike anything seen previously in a vertebra of any animal. The neural tube is placed centrally within the vertebra and is connected to the external wall via a number of thin rod-like trabeculae, radially arranged like the spokes of a bicycle wheel and helically arranged along the length of the vertebra. They even cross over like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Evolution shaped these creatures into awesome, breathtakingly efficient flyers.”

Scientists previously thought the pterosaur’s neck had a simpler tube-within-a-tube structure, he explains. But it raised an important question: how could their thin-walled bones, needed to reduce weight in the flying reptiles, still support their bodies and allow them to capture and eat heavy prey animals?

Cariad Williams, the study’s first author, hadn’t set out to answer that question. She wanted to examine the degree of movement between each vertebra of the pterosaur’s neck.

“These animals have ridiculously long necks,” Williams says, adding that, in some species, the fifth vertebra of the neck from the head end is as long as the animal’s body. “It makes a giraffe look perfectly normal. We wanted to know a bit about how this incredibly long neck functioned, as it seems to have very little mobility between each vertebra.”

While the Moroccan pterosaur bones they study are well preserved in three dimensions, the researchers still hadn’t expected the scans to offer such a clear view of the vertebra’s intricate internal structure.

This image of a pterosaur vertebra shows the bicycle wheel-like spoke arrangement. © Williams et al.

“We did not originally CT scan it to learn about the inside; we wanted a very detailed image of the outside surface,” Martill says. “We could have got this by ordinary surface scanning, but we had an opportunity to put some specimens in a CT scanner, and it seemed churlish to turn the offer down. We were simply trying to model the degree of movement between all the vertebrae to see how the neck might perform in life.”

He adds, “What was utterly remarkable was that the internal structure was perfectly preserved–so too was the microhistology when we made some petrographic sections through the bone. As soon as we saw the intricate pattern of radial trabeculae, we realized there was something special going on. As we looked closer, we could see that they were arranged in a helix traveling up and down the vertebral tube and crossing each other like bicycle wheel spokes.”

His team realized immediately that they needed to bring in engineers to understand how the biomechanics of this unusual neck would have worked. Those analyses suggest that as few as 50 of the spoke-like trabeculae increased the amount of weight their necks could carry without buckling by 90%. Together with the basic tube-within-a-tube structure, it explains how the relatively light-weight animals could capture and carry heavy prey items without breaking their necks.

“It appears that this structure of extremely thin cervical vertebrae and added helically arranged cross-struts resolved many concerns about the biomechanics of how these creatures were able to support massive heads–longer than 1.5 meters–on necks longer than the modern-day giraffe, all whilst retaining the ability of powered flight,” Martill says.

While pterosaurs are sometimes thought of as evolutionary dead ends, Martill and colleagues say the new findings reveal them as “fantastically complex and sophisticated.” Their bones and skeletons were marvels of biology–extremely light yet strong and durable.

The researchers say there’s still much to learn in future work about pterosaurs, including seemingly basic questions about their flight abilities and feeding ecology.

Featured image: This illustration shows an artist’s rendering of a pterosaur (Alanqa saharica). © Davide Bonadonna

Reference: Williams et al.: “Helically arranged cross struts in azhdarchid pterosaur cervical vertebrae and their biomechanical implications”, iscience, 2021. https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(21)00306-0

Provided by Cell Press

Fossil Shark Turns In To Mystery Pterosaur (Paleontology)

Palaeontologists have made a surprising discovery while searching through 100-year-old fossil collections from the UK — a new mystery species of pterosaur, unlike anything seen before.

Palaeontologists have made a surprising discovery while searching through 100-year-old fossil collections from the UK – a new mystery species of pterosaur, unlike anything seen before.

Pterosaurs with these types of beaks are better known at the time period from North Africa, so it would be reasonable to assume a likeness to the North African Alanqa. ©Attributed to Davide Bonadonna.

Lead author of the project, University of Portsmouth PhD student Roy Smith, discovered the mystery creature amongst fossil collections housed in the Sedgwick Museum of Cambridge and the Booth Museum at Brighton that were assembled when phosphate mining was at its peak in the English Fens between 1851 and 1900. These fossils found while workmen were digging phosphate nodules were frequently sold to earn a little bit of extra money.

It was while Smith was examining the fossils of shark spines that he made the amazing discovery. The fossils were actually fragments of jaws of toothless pterosaurs, which do indeed resemble shark fin spines, but there are many subtle differences that allow them to be distinguished.

Smith says: “One such feature are tiny little holes where nerves come to the surface and are used for sensitive feeding by the pterosaurs. Shark fin spines do not have these, but the early palaeontologists clearly missed these features. Two of the specimens discovered can be identified as a pterosaur called Ornithostoma, but one additional specimen is clearly distinct and represents a new species. It is a palaeontological mystery.

“Unfortunately, this specimen is too fragmentary to be the basis for naming the new species. Sadly, it is doubtful if any more remains of this pterosaur will be discovered, as there are no longer any exposures of the rock from which the fossils came. But I’m hopeful that other museum collections may contain more examples, and as soon as the Covid restrictions are lifted I will continue my search”.

Smith’s supervisor, Professor Dave Martill, University of Portsmouth, says: “The little bit of beak is tantalising in that it is small, and simply differs from Ornithostoma in subtle ways, perhaps in the way that a great white egret might differ from a heron. Likely the differences in life would have been more to do with colour, call and behaviour than in the skeleton”.

“Pterosaurs with these types of beaks are better known at the time period from North Africa, so it would be reasonable to assume a likeness to the North African Alanqa (pictured below). This is extremely exciting to have discovered this mystery pterosaur right here in the UK.

“This find is significant because it adds to our knowledge of these ancient and fascinating flying prehistoric reptiles, but also demonstrates that such discoveries can be made, simply by re-examining material in old collections.”

References: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pgeola.2020.10.004

Provided by University of Portsmouth

New Pterosaur Species Unearthed in China (Paleontology)

A new genus and species of dsungaripterid pterosaur that lived during the Early Cretaceous epoch has been identified from the incomplete lower jaws found in China.

Life reconstruction of Ordosipterus planignathus. Image credit: Chuang Zhao.

Pterosaurs are highly successful flying reptiles that lived at the same time as dinosaurs, between 210 million and 65 million years ago.

They were Earth’s first flying vertebrates, with birds and bats making their appearances much later.

Some pterosaurs, such as the giant azhdarchids, were the largest flying animals of all time, with wingspans exceeding 9 m (30 feet) and standing heights comparable to modern giraffes.

The newly-identified species, dubbed Ordosipterus planignathus, lived between 120 and 110 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.

This flying reptile belongs to Dsungaripteridae, a family of robust pterosaurs that includes several genera and species from Asia and South America.

“As a member of the Dsungaripteridae family, Ordosipterus planignathus enlarges the geographical distribution of the dsungaripterid pterosaurs from the northwestern China — with western Mongolia — to central North China,” said Dr. Shu-an Ji, a paleontologist in the Institute of Geology at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and the Key Laboratory of Stratigraphy and Palaeontology at China’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

Incomplete articulated lower jaws of Ordosipterus planignathus: (a) dorsal view, (b) left lateral view, (c) ventral view. Image credit: Shu-an Ji, doi: 10.31035/cg2020007.

The fossilized remains of Ordosipterus planignathus were found in the Luohandong Formation near Xinzhao village in Inner Mongolia, China.

“The specimen consists of the anterior portion of articulated lower jaws, with a partial tooth and several alveoli,” Dr. Ji said.

“The rostral tip of the mandibular symphysis is missing.”

“The preserved segments of the left and right dentaries measure 7.7 cm (3 inches) and 4.5 cm (1.8 inches) long, respectively.”

Ordosipterus planignathus represents the first convincible pterosaur from the Ordos Region in Inner Mongolia, and the second pterosaur species from the Ordos Basin after Huanhepterus quingyangensis in Gansu Province,” he concluded.

“This fossil further strengthens the opinion that the northern China and Mongolia belong to a unique and endemic dinosaur biogeographic realm featured by the presence of Psittacosaurus and pterosaurs during the Early Cretaceous period.”

The discovery of Ordosipterus planignathus is described in a paper published in the journal China Geology.

References: Shu-an Ji. 2020. First record of Early Cretaceous pterosaur from the Ordos Region, Inner Mongolia, China. China Geology 3 (1): 1-7; doi: 10.31035/cg2020007

This article is republished here from sci news under common creative licenses.

Small Pterosaur from Mid-Cretaceous Period Had Adaptations for Sediment Probing (Paleontology)

Paleontologists in Morocco have discovered the fossilized remains that belonged to a unique small, long-beaked pterosaur.

An artist’s impression of Leptostomia begaaensis. Image credit: Megan Jacobs, University of Portsmouth.

The new pterosaur species, named Leptostomia begaaensis, lived between 113 and 94 million years ago (mid-Cretaceous period).

The flying reptile had a very long flattened toothless beak, and was similar in size to a turkey.

It likely used its beak to probe dirt and mud for hidden prey.

“The diets and hunting strategies of pterosaurs were diverse — they likely ate meat, fish and insects. The giant pterosaurs probably ate whatever they wanted,” said co-author Professor David Martill, a paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth.

“Some species hunted food on the wing, others stalked their prey on the ground. Now, the fragments of this remarkable little pterosaur show a lifestyle previously unknown for pterosaurs.”

“Leptostomia begaaensis may actually have been a fairly common pterosaur, but it’s so strange — people have probably been finding bits of this beast for years, but we didn’t know what they were until now,” said senior author Dr. Nick Longrich, a paleontologist in the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath.

The upper and lower jaws of Leptostomia begaaensis were recovered from the Cretaceous-period layers of the Kem Kem Basin in Morocco, North Africa.

Professor Martill, Dr. Longrich and their colleagues used CT scans to reveal an incredible network of internal canals for nerves that helped detect the prey underground.

“We’ve never seen anything like this little pterosaur before,” Professor Martill said.

“The bizarre shape of the beak was so unique, at first the fossils weren’t recognized as a pterosaur.”

The morphology of Leptostomia begaaensis’ beak most closely resembles that of probing birds such as kiwis, ibises, and curlews that probe in mud or earth for invertebrates.

The pterosaur could probably have done either, but its presence in the Kem Kem Formation — representing a rich ecosystem of rivers and estuaries — suggests it was drawn there to feed on aquatic prey.

“You might think of the pterosaur as imitating the strategy used successfully by modern birds, but it was the pterosaur that got there first,” Dr. Longrich said.

“Birds just reinvented what pterosaurs had already done tens of millions of years earlier.”

References: Roy E. Smith et al. 2021. A long-billed, possible probe-feeding pterosaur (Pterodactyloidea: ?Azhdarchoidea) from the mid-Cretaceous of Morocco, North Africa. Cretaceous Research 118: 104643; doi: 10.1016/j.cretres.2020.104643 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195667120303293