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“Amazing” – Scientists Identify Unique New Species of Pterosaur

Photograph of the whole specimen of Petrodacyle. Credit: René Lauer

The animal had a 2-meter wingspan and a large bony crest on its head.

A team of researchers from Britain, America, and Germany identified a 145-million-year-old pterosaur, a class of now-extinct flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs. The creature earned the nickname ‘Elvis’ upon its discovery in Bavaria, Germany, due to the large bony crest on its skull, reminiscent of a pompadour.

Now the animal has been given the formal scientific name of Petrodactyle wellnhoferi. The name translates as ‘Wellnhofer’s stone-finger’ honouring legendary German paleontologist Peter Wellnhofer who spent his career working on German pterosaurs. Petrodactyle is a member of a group of pterosaurs called the ctenochasmatids that were mostly small filter feeders. Petrodactyle is a very complete skeleton with nearly every bone preserved and in remarkable detail.

Many pterosaurs are known with bony crests which they used primarily as sexual signals to other members of the speciesA species is a group of living organisms that share a set of common characteristics and are able to breed and produce fertile offspring. The concept of a species is important in biology as it is used to classify and organize the diversity of life. There are different ways to define a species, but the most widely accepted one is the biological species concept, which defines a species as a group of organisms that can interbreed and produce viable offspring in nature. This definition is widely used in evolutionary biology and ecology to identify and classify living organisms.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>species, but Pterodactyle has by far the largest crest even seen in a ctenochasmatid. Dr. David Hone of Queen Mary University of London, the lead author on the study said, “Big though this crest is, we know that these pterosaurs had skin-like extensions attached to it, so in life, Petrodactyle would have had an even larger crest.”

The details of the specimen are especially clear under UV light which helps show the difference between the bones and the rock in which they are embedded, which under natural light are a very similar color. René Lauer of the Lauer Foundation, an author on the study said, “The use of UV Induced Fluorescence digital photography provided the ability to discern fine structures small bones and provided additional information regarding the structures of the bony crest which aided in the interpretations and conclusions of this unique new species.”

The petrodactyle was unusually large too. It has a wingspan of around 2 meters, but it was still an older ‘teenager’ by pterosaur standards and would have been even larger as a fully mature animal. Even so, it is one of the largest pterosaurs known from the Late JurassicThe Jurassic period is a geologic time period and system that spanned 56 million years from the end of the Triassic Period about 201.3 million years ago to the beginning of the Cretaceous Period 145 million years ago. It constitutes the middle period of the Mesozoic Era and is divided into three epochs: Early, Middle, and Late. The name "Jurassic" was given to the period by geologists in the early 19th century based on the rock formations found in the Jura Mountains, which were formed during the Jurassic period.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>Jurassic period. Bruce Lauer of the Lauer Foundation, an author on the study said “The specimen was located in a quarry which is producing scientifically important fossils that provide additional insights into Late Jurassic Pterosaurs.  This research is a great example of the benefits of cooperation between amateur collectors, commercial fossil dealers, our Foundation, and research scientists to advance science.”

Like other ctenochasmatids, Petrodactyle was at home on the shore of shallow seas but might have ventured into estuaries or to lakes. Its long jaw with many small teeth would have been good for grabbing at small fish, shrimp, and other aquatic prey. However, unlike most other ctenochasmatids, it had an expansion at the back of the skull to attach large jaw muscles and give it a stronger bite than many of its contemporaries. Frederik Spindler of the Dinosaurier Museum in Germany, an author on the study said, “It is amazing to document an increasingly wide range of adaptations.  Pterosaurs were a fundamental part of the Jurassic ecology.”

Dr. Hone concluded, “Peter Wellnhofer is long overdue for having a species of German pterosaur named after him to honor his lifelong contribution to the study of these amazing animals.”

The Lauer Foundation acquires, curates, and provides access to a collection of scientifically important Paleontological specimens.  The collection is available to the scientific community for research, publication, exhibition, and educational outreach.

Reference: “Petrodactyle wellnhoferi gen. et sp. nov.: A new and large ctenochasmatid pterosaur from the Late Jurassic of Germany” by David W. E. Hone, René Lauer, Bruce Lauer and Frederik Spindler, 15 June 2023, Palaeontologia Electronica.
DOI: 10.26879/1251

Source: SciTechDaily