89mn-yr-old flying reptile fossils could be ‘world’s oldest Pteranodon’

March 2nd, 2011 - 12:07 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 2 (ANI): Fossils of 89mn-yr-old flying reptile found in Texas indicate that it could be the world’s oldest Pteranodon.

The bones were identified by palaeontologist Timothy S. Myers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Pteranodon was a type of pterosaur and the only reptiles to dominate the ancient skies. They lived about the same time as some dinosaurs, about 100 million to 65 million years ago.

Pterosaurs, many of which survived on fish, lived at a time when a massive ancient sea cut across the central United States.

The reptile Myers identified is an adult pterosaur of the toothless variety and had a wingspan between 12 and 13 feet, or 3.6 to 4 meters.

The humerus of the specimen, while complete, suffered some damage during fossilization when it became compressed and distorted through millions of years of compaction.

It was discovered in the Austin Group, a prominent rock unit in Texas that was deposited around 89 million years ago, early in the geological time period called the Late Cretaceous.

The SMU specimen, if a Pteranodon, would be the first discovered so far south in the Western Interior Seaway, said Myers.

“If it wasn’t crushed so badly, it would be possible to determine if it really is Pteranodon. These bones are easily flattened. They are hollow inside, because they have to be lightweight to allow a pterosaur to fly. So they compress like a pancake as they’re embedded in layers of rock,” said Myers.

However, some features clearly identify the fossil as a Pteranodon - the prominent warped deltopectoral crest that is characteristic of members of the Pteranodontidae family, called pteranodontids, he said.

Although the cause of death isn’t known yet, to Myers it appears the animal probably died in flight over the sea and then fell into the water. Its carcass probably floated for some time, so that when the flesh decomposed the bones separated at the joints, known as “disarticulation,” before they settled to the sea floor and were buried.

“We know it was disarticulated when it was buried because the bones weren’t preserved in correct anatomical position,” Myers said.

“Abrupt truncation of the broken end of one of the bones and infilling of the break with sediment also indicates that the breakage and disarticulation took place prior to burial.”

The find appears in the Journal of Palaeontology. (ANI)

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