200-million year old Pterosaur built for flying

A new Utah pterosaur skull fragments reconstructed in, appears closely related to another species of the flying archosaur from Britain

A new Utah pterosaur skull fragments reconstructed in, appears closely related to another species of the flying archosaur from Britain

In a patch of Utah desert no larger than a living room, scientists working a decade ago discovered a late Triassic treasure trove: 18,000 bones from nine unusual species of reptiles, all victims of a watering hole that dried up some 201 million to 210 million years ago. Though it hadn't reached adulthood, the specimen's wingspan was already over 1.5 meters, or roughly 5 feet, which could make it the biggest species of pterosaur on record, BBC News reported.

Scientists came across a new member of this family somewhere in northeastern Utah.

About 210 million years ago, a unusual "bird" with a pelican-like pouch, big fangs and a large, five-foot wingspan circled above the Utah desert, searching for its next meal.

A sharp jump in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere 200 million years ago, caused, probably, by a series of volcanic eruptions that permanently changed the Earth's climate.

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.

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A 3D-printed skull of the newly discovered species. After already tallying almost 20,000 fossils from this one spot, they've only discovered one of the flying reptiles, and it just so happened to be the find of a lifetime. "Most pterosaurs bones look like road-kill". The remains include a almost intact skull - showing sides of the face and the complete roof of the skull (braincase included) - and also a part of the wing, researchers reported in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

It was also a giant for its time, as most early pterosaurs were rather small. It's pouch was either used to store prey or for vocalizations, according to Discovery, but the prey would not have been fish because Science magazine reports that the desert where Caelestiventus hanseni lived was home only to reptiles.

The bones were discovered in a desert in Utah, which would have been an oasis when this creature would have been alive. That's why there are only 30 specimens found, even though the Triassic period lasted a good 51 million years. Most other specimens have been discovered in the Alps.

"We're getting insights into the beginning of pterosaurs", Britt said. The fossil, unearthed at Saints & Sinners Quarry in Utah, was preserved in sandstone and offers a detailed three-dimensional view of the brain case, teeth, and other bones that provide new information about pterosaurs.

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