Remarkable Discovery: 107-Million-Year-Old Winged Reptile Unearthed in Australia ,The adaptable pterosaur – the first flying vertebrate – lived in dark, polar conditions in present-day Australia, according to new paper. The research identified two pterosaur bones more than 30 years after their initial discovery.
The bones date back to 107 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, when Australia formed a large southern land mass with Antarctica, New Zealand and South America. By then, the Australian state of Victoria – where volunteers first discovered the fossils in the late 1980s – would have passed into the Arctic Circle, meaning it would have been covered in darkness for weeks on end during the winter.
“Despite these harsh seasonal conditions, it’s clear that pterosaurs found a way to survive and thrive,” says Adele Pentland, a researcher at the Curtin School of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Western Australia, in press release. “It will only be a matter of time before we can determine whether pterosaurs migrated north during the harsh winters to breed, or whether they adapted to polar conditions.”
Shapes and sizes of pterosaurs
Pterosaurs belong to the archosaur family, along with the dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds to which they are related. Paleontologists have identified more than 200 species of pterosaurs, including some with paper-thin bones and long, skinny fingers. The first, discovered in Germany in the late 1700s, preceded the discovery of dinosaurs by half a century.
The two new fossils, a pelvic bone and a small wing bone, came from two different pterosaurs, the paper said, including a juvenile specimen, the first identified in Australia. The pelvis is supposed to belong to a pterosaur with a wingspan of over six feet.
“Only a few remains have been found where they were [previously high latitude] places like Victoria,” says Pentland, “so these bones give us a better idea of where pterosaurs lived and how big they were.”
The Rocks at Dinosaur Cove
Decades ago, volunteers discovered the bones in Dinosaur Cove, a well-known former floodplain in southeastern Australia with a history of discoveries. The rocks at the site contain fossils of a similar age to those of pterosaurs, the oldest ever found in the country.
“These two fossils are the result of the painstaking efforts of more than 100 volunteers over a decade,” said Tom Rich, curator at Museums Victoria’s Research Institute, in a press release. “This effort involved digging more than 60 meters of tunnel where the two fossils were found in a coastal cliff.”
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