The latest edition of the scientific journal Palaeontology contains a paper on a new type of Pterosaur, written by a team of researchers from Portsmouth University. The animal has been named Lacusovagus magnificens (means magnificent lake wanderer), a flying reptile with an estimated wingspan of 5 metres and standing as tall as a grizzly bear. Although, a very imposing creature, the hollow bones and other anatomical adaptations for flight would have made this animal extremely light, perhaps weighing less than a 12 year-old child. The fossil was discovered in the Araripe Basin, in north-east Brazil. This specimen is providing a fresh insight into the evolution and spread of Pterosaurs as this particular creature’s nearest relatives originate from China. The skull material is the most important part of the fossil, allowing palaeontologists to establish taxonomic relationships between different species and genera. Lacusovagus is the biggest Pterosaur of this type found to date, most of the Chinese specimens had wingspans of less than one metre.
This toothless Pterosaur (the technical term for flying reptiles – the name means winged lizard), has been dated to approximately 115 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage), but the Pterosaur fossil record dates back much further into the Triassic. These animals were the first vertebrates to develop powered flight. Unfortunately, the remains were first discovered were so fragile that it was decided to protect them by covering them with car filler. This certainly helped strengthen the fossil and aided the recovery process but the preparation of this specimen has proved to be extremely difficult as researchers tried to remove filler so that they could study the fossil bone. Commenting on the preservation status of this new Pterosaur find, Mark Witton stated: “The specimen was quite fragile so the guys who were collecting it – probably quarrymen – very sensibly decided to put a large slab of limestone underneath to strengthen it. Unfortunately, they used car body filler as the glue. The infernal car filler was a real cow to get through. I don’t know how many tools I broke trying to cut it”.
The skull of this particular flying reptile was much wider than is usual for Pterosaurs and Mark Witton has suggested that it had a wide throat, which would have vastly increased the range of prey available to it. Pterosaurs are widely thought of as fish-eaters, but he said it was likely that the new species would have eaten small dinosaurs, which it would have swallowed whole. The toothless beak and wide throat would have enabled it to catch and swallow various prey animals – perhaps moving in groups across the fern plains flushing out lizards, mammals and even small dinosaurs a bit like the lifestyle of the Marabou stork in Africa. Brazil is becoming quite famous for Pterosaur finds, a number of new genera have been identified from the Santana Formation of Brazil, a series of rock strata dating from the early to mid Cretaceous. Both toothless and toothed types of Pterosaur have been found in the upper layers of the Santana Formation, including the toothed flying reptile Anhanguera (name means old devil). Those Pterosaurs with teeth in their beaks were probably fish-feeders, swooping low over the sea (the early Atlantic ocean) and catching fish in their toothed beaks. More on this blog.