Giant Pterosaur Skull Secrets Revealed By CT Scan

The inside of a skull of a giant pterosaur has been seen for the very first time on a computed tomography (CT) scan, the Natural History Museum in London announced today. The flying animal, which lived at the same time as the dinosaurs, was an enormous fish predator with a wingspan of up to 15 feet. Originally collected in Brazil, the 100 million year old specimen is the only representative of the giant Anhanguera genus of pterosaurs currently on public display in the United Kingdom.

The news comes one day after a nine-year-old UK girl, Daisy Morris, was honored for her discovery of a new pterosaur species, a relatively petite crow-sized specimen which will now be known to science as Vectidraco daisymorrisae. She was reportedly a mere five years old when she discovered the fossil remains washed up on a beach in the Isle of Wight.

In February, full-grown adult researchers from the UK reported on yet another new species of pterosaur that they found in Romania, Eurazhdarcho langendorfensis, which boasted a respectable 10 foot wingspan.

The large pterosaur family was clearly a widespread and successful group of flying predators. The Natural History Museum’s peek into their specimen’s braincase required a special two year process just to prepare the skull. Lorna Steel, the pterosaur curator, said that a careful and strategic use of acid was required to remove the limestone matrix from the fossil.

At half a meter — more than 1.5 feet — the lengthy skull itself was a challenge to fit into the CT scanner. In fact, the whole skull couldn’t be scanned at once, and it took two days to stitch the two sides of the whole image together.

The next step is to analyze the resulting image, to see what parts of the giant pterosaur’s brain were most active. That team plans to report on their discoveries in May.

The Natural History Museum has about 1,000 pterosaur fossils of many different species in its collection.

[artist’s rendering flying pterosaurs courtesy Dmitry Bogdanov and Wikipedia Commons]