Scientists discovered new species of flying reptiles

The new fossils are helping to uncover the very poorly known evolutionary history of Africa during the time of the dinosaurs.

Professor David Martill from Portsmouth and researchers from the United States and Morocco have discovered a community of flying reptiles that lived in the Sahara 100 million years ago. They have found three new species of toothed pterosaurs, that were part of an ancient river ecosystem in Africa.

The pterosaurs were full of life, including fish, crocodiles, turtles, and several predatory dinosaurs.

The new pterosaurs identified by the researchers from chunks of jaws and teeth, found in the middle Cretaceous Kem Kem beds of Morocco, had wingspans of around three to four meters. These aerial fishers snatched up their prey while on the wing, using a murderous looking set of large spike-like teeth that formed a highly effective tooth grab. Giant pterosaurs such as these would have been able to forage over vast distances, similar to present-day birds such as condors and albatrosses.

This discovery is expected to help scientists uncover the poorly comprehended history of Africa during the time of the dinosaurs. It also shows that African pterosaurs were quite similar to those found on other continents.

Professor Martill said: “We are in a golden age for discovering pterodactyles. This year alone, we have discovered three new species, and we are only into March.”

Ibrahim, assistant professor of Biology at Detroit Mercy, said“These new finds provide an important window into the world of African pterosaurs. We know so much more about pterosaurs from places like Europe and Asia, so describing new specimens from Africa is always very exciting.”

One of the species, Anhanguera, was previously only known from Brazil. Another, Ornithocheirus, had until now only been found in England and Middle Asia.

The research was led by Megan Jacobs from Baylor University, Texas, who worked alongside Professor Martill and Nizar Ibrahim from the University of Detroit Mercy.

Journal Reference:
  1. New toothed pterosaurs (Pterosauria: Ornithocheiridae) from the middle Cretaceous Kem Kem beds of Morocco and implications for pterosaur palaeobiogeography and diversity. DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2020.104413

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