“The Oldest Flying Creature?” Rare Pterosaur Discovered at 200-Million-Year-Old Watering Hole

 

In a patch of Utah desert no larger than a living room, scientists working a decade ago discovered a late Triassic treasure trove: 18,000 bones from nine unusual species of reptiles, all victims of a watering hole that dried up some 201 million to 210 million years ago. Now, they’re reporting on the most interesting find to date: the oldest ever pterosaur. The find is especially unusual because ancient flying reptiles of that era were thought to live in coastal areas.

“Triassic pterosaurs are extraordinarily rare,” said study lead author Brooks Britt, a geologist at Brigham Young University. The animal was not a bird nor a dinosaur, though it lived at about the same time as the iconic beasts.
The specimen was remarkably well-preserved, the study noted. Part of the fossil included a nearly intact skull.

“During droughts, large numbers of animals — including pterosaurs, predatory dinosaurs and crocodylomorphs — were drawn to the pond in the middle of the oasis, where they died as water dried up,” said Britt.

Experts say this is an amazing discovery for such old bones. “Most pterosaur bones look like roadkill,” Britt said.
“For this animal, we have the sides of the face and the complete roof of the skull, including the brain case, complete lower jaws and part of the wing,” he said. It was also an odd giant for its time, as most early pterosaurs were rather small.

 

Caelestiventus hanseni, whose genus name is Latin for “heavenly wind,” had a wing span of about 1.5 meters (similar to modern-day ospreys) and a flange of bone suggesting it sported a fleshy wattle under its chin—or possibly a small pouch like today’s pelicans. The discovery, writes Sid Perkins in Science—which included bits of the skull, jawbone, and a finger bone from its wing—pushes back the record of desert-dwelling pterosaurs a whopping 65 million years, the researchers report online today in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Despite the special bone flange under its jaw (seen in the reconstructed skull, above), Caelestiventus probably didn’t eat fish, as pelicans do; the desert oasis where it died apparently hosted only reptiles.

The Daily Galaxy via Science  and USA Today 

Image Credit: BYU Geology

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