Paleontologists have discovered a brand new species of pterosaur in northeastern Utah, and the fossil that they recovered would have once flown the skies 210 million years ago during the Triassic period, making it 65 million years older than its closest relatives.
Lead author Professor Brooks Britt, who is a geologist at Brigham Young University, noted that pterosaurs from the Triassic period are “extraordinarily rare,” according to USA Today. The new species has been given the Latin name Caelestiventus hanseni, which translates to “heavenly wind.”
Amazingly, the skull of the pterosaur fossil is almost completely intact, which makes it all the more remarkable, as Britt explained.
“Most pterosaur bones look like roadkill. 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.”
The BBC has reported that out of the 18,000 bones that paleontologists found in Utah, only this one pterosaur was found, and while it hadn’t achieved adult status yet, it was nevertheless a mighty and very large creature, according to Professor Britt. This is in marked contrast to other earlier pterosaur fossils, which have all been very small.
“This one site we’ve pulled out 18,000 bones from an area the size of a good sized living room. And there’s only one pterosaur. It was probably the biggest of its day. Among its peers, we have no evidence that any rival came close to that.”
This Utah pterosaur would have been around even before dinosaurs had evolved, and the pterosaur itself was neither a dinosaur nor a bird, but was a flying reptile, with the pterodactyl perhaps the one that most people are familiar with.
Until this new pterosaur fossil was found in Utah, paleontologists had to rely on studying just 30 specimens that had been retrieved from other areas of the world, like the Alps, but in many of these cases, there was little more than one bone left of the pterosaur, and not much to go on.
Paleontologists now know that these flying lizards once lived in many different environments, and with such an extraordinary discovery as this one, they will be able to learn even more now.
“We’re getting insights into the beginning of pterosaurs. Our study shows that they’re extraordinarily diverse.”
The new study on the discovery of the newest species of pterosaur has been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.