Newfound Fossil Shows How Pterosaurs Flew Long-Haul Flights

By Esther Inglis-Arkell on at

A pterosaur fossil has been discovered in Texas. It has a relative that is close genetically but not geographically, which means ancient pterosaurs could have made very, very long journeys.

Cimoliopterus dunni lived around the Cretaceous period, in what is now Texas. Palaeontologists studying it saw that it had teeth, a relatively rare feature for that part of the world at the time. Usually, one would assume that the different kinds of pterosaurs living in the region about 94 million years ago were related to each other, but this C. dunni seems to be an exception. It is not closely related to its peers, nor is it related to South American pterosaurs of this epoch.

Its closest relative was in what is now Britain: Cimoliopterus cuvieri. Scientists know that pterosaurs were decent flyers, and that they lived near the sea, but this fossil find confirms that they were stronger and more comfortable flying out over the ocean than palaeontologists had thought. The British and American branches of this pterosaur family were isolated when a gulf opened up between Europe and North America.

Relatively few species of toothed pterosaur made it over to America, an indication that getting from one continent to the other was a long journey. The fact that any made it at all implies that ancient pterosaurs, including the ancestors of C. dunni, flew out over the ocean, moving from one island to the next, until they made it to the very old New World. [Source:First North American occurrence of the toothed pteranodontoid pterosaur Cimoliopterus]

Image: Hillsman Jackson, SMU

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