Paleontologists from the United Kingdom have discovered a new species of pterosaur on the Scottish island of Skye. This reptile lived about 168 to 166 million years ago, during the Middle Jurassic era, when scientists previously thought pterosaurs existed only in present-day China. So the discovery of the remains of a flying reptile even in dinosaur-rich Scotland came as a real surprise. The new pterosaur is described in a study published on February 5 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
[Related: Dinosaur Cove reveals a petite pterosaur species.]
The new species is appointed Ceoptera evansae. It comes from the Scottish Gaelic word for mist or 'cheò' and refers to the Gaelic name for the island 'Eilean a' Cheò' or Isle of Mist. Evansées honors a scientist Susan E. Evansfor his years of paleontological and morphological research, notably on the Isle of Skye.
Scientists at the University of Bristol in England made digital models of the fossils using a scanner and believe they probably had a wingspan of around three to five feet. It was probably a species of pterosaur between the primitive and late stages of evolution. Middle Jurassic pterosaurs were undergoing major anatomical changes. Early pterosaurs smaller like raven-sized pterosaurs Dimorphodon gave way to later pterosaurs like Pteranodon, with the wingspan of small planes.
Ceoptera probably part of the Pterosaur clade Darwinoptera. His discovery reveals that clade– or a group of organisms descended from a common ancestor – is significantly more diverse than previously thought. The clade may have lasted more than 25 million years, and species in the clade spread throughout the world.
“Ceoptera helps refine the timing of several major events in the evolution of flying reptiles. Its appearance in the Middle Jurassic of the UK was a complete surprise, as most of its close relatives originated in China,” study co-author and Natural History Museum vertebrate palaeontologist Paul Barrett. said in a statement. “This shows that the advanced group of flying reptiles to which it belongs appeared earlier than we thought and quickly acquired a near-global distribution.”
A new discovery at 15
The team used specimens of the reptile's wings, spine, shoulders and legs that were first discovered embedded in a rock on a beach in 2006. It took Lu Allington-Jones , fossil technician at the Natural History Museum, gets closer two years prepare the fossils for study because the rocks on the island are very hard and the fossil bones are delicate. According to the authorsthe specimen is one of the most complete pterosaur fossils found in the UK since palaeontologist Mary Anning found the first in 1828.
Pterosaur fossils are often found crushed, deformed or incomplete. Like birds, they had hollow bones that were easily crushed and deformed over millions of years. Records of pterosaurs from the Jurassic and late Cretaceous (around 145 to 66 million years ago) in the UK are rare. Ceoptera helps fill some of these evolutionary gaps.
“The period during which Ceoptera “This is one of the most important periods in pterosaur evolution, and it is also the one in which we have the fewest specimens, indicating its importance,” said Liz Martin-Silverstone, co- study author and paleobiologist from the University of Bristol. said in a statement. “To discover that there were more bones embedded in the rock, some of which were integral in identifying the type of pterosaur Ceoptera is, made it an even better discovery than initially thought. This brings us closer to understanding where and when the most advanced pterosaurs evolved.
[Related: This flightless pterosaur ancestor had enviable claws and a raptor-like beak.]
When pterosaurs ruled the sky
While insects were the first animals to take flight, pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to fly. Technically, pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, but their evolutionary cousins. The largest pterosaur that scientists know is Quetzalcoatlus northropi, which was found in Texas. Since everything is bigger in Texas, this pterosaur had a wingspan of about 32 to 36 feet. Australia's largest pterosaur Thapunngaka Shawi, has a wingspan of approximately 22 feet.
Palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh told BBC than this Ceoptera was probably unique to Scotland.
“This is the time before birds, so pterosaurs ruled the skies.” said Brusette, who did not participate in the study. “This research shows that pterosaurs were common animals in Scotland, hovering over the heads of dinosaurs.”