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Origins of pterosaurs

Date: 11 December 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

Scientists may have solved one of palaeontology’s enduring mysteries - the evolutionary origins of the flying reptiles called pterosaurs.

 

Background

The origin of pterosaurs has been one of the most enigmatic issues of palaeontology since the first discovery of pterosaurs in the late 18th century.

 

Details

  • Researchers said that a reptile group called lagerpetids appears to have been the evolutionary precursor to pterosaurs. It is identified by few skeletons in United States, Argentina, Brazil and Madagascar.

  • Lagerpetids, first appearing about 237 million years ago, were generally small and may have been bipedal insect-eaters.

  • However, they could not fly. Pterosaurs became Earth’s first flying vertebrates, with birds and then bats appearing much later.

  • The oldest-known pterosaurs appear in the fossil record about 220 million years ago, with anatomies fully developed for flight including wings formed by a membrane extending from the ankles to an exceptionally elongated fourth finger.

  • Studying previously discovered and newly unearthed fossils using sophisticated scanning technology and three-dimensional modelling, the researchers identified at least 33 skeletal traits suggesting an evolutionary link between lagerpetids and pterosaurs.

  • These included the shape of the inner ear, braincase and teeth, as well as similarities in hand, leg, ankle and pelvic bones.

  • Lagerpetids also appear to be closely related to dinosaurs. The oldest-known dinosaur dates to about 233 million years ago.

  • Pterosaurs disappeared 66 million years ago in the asteroid collision that also doomed the dinosaurs.

 

Palaeontology

Palaeontology is the study of prehistoric species, mostly ones that are extinct. It focuses primarily on fossil data, using a variety of physical, chemical and biological techniques to analyse them.