Oldest Fossil Of Iconic Flying Reptile Pterodactylus Identified In Germany


A new study, published in the journal Fossil Record, has determined that the remains of a dinosaur cousin, unearthed in Germany in 2014, is the oldest known fossil of this species.

The species is Pterodactylus, one of the pterosaurs or flying reptiles that existed for more than 160 million years, between 227 million and 66 million years ago. The pterosaurs had wing spans ranging from 1 to 12 meters.

Among the pterosaurs, Pterodactylus was the first one to be described and named. The first Pterodactylus was found more than 200 years ago from the Solnhofen Limestone quarry in Bavaria, southern Germany. When it was described in 1784 by the Italian naturalist Cosimo Alessandro Collini, the fossil was considered to be an aquatic animal. But after 25 years, the scientist Georges Cuvier found out it was a flying reptile, belonging to a group that had not been described before. The Pterodactylus is now considered an iconic species.

The fossil described in the new study is the oldest specimen of Pterodactylus on record. Found in 2014 in a limestone quarry near Painten, a small town in Bavaria, it is about one million years older than other Pterodactylus specimens.

The specimen was unearthed in 2014 during excavations in an active limestone quarry. It took more than 120 hours of meticulous mechanical work using pneumatic tools and needles before the researchers could study it. The research team behind the discovery are Felix Augustin, Andreas Matzke, Panagiotis Kampouridis and Josephina Hartung from the University of Tübingen (Germany) and Raimund Albersdörfer from the Dinosaurier Museum Altmühltal (Germany).

“The rocks of the quarry, which yielded the new Pterodactylus specimen, consist of silicified limestone that has been dated to the upper Kimmeridgian stage (around 152 million years ago). Previously, Pterodactylus had only been found in younger rocks of southern Germany belonging to the Tithonian stage that follows after the Kimmeridgian,” a blog post by Pensoft Publishers, which publishes various journals including Fossil Record, quoted the study’s lead author, Felix Augustin of the University of Tübingen, as saying.

The specimen is a complete, well-preserved skeleton of a small-sized individual. “Only a very small portion of the left mandible as well as of the left and right tibia is missing. Otherwise, the skeleton is nearly perfectly preserved with every bone present and in its roughly correct anatomical position”, the study notes.

The skull of the Pterodactylus found near Painten measures 5 cm. This means it was a “sub-adult”, which is rare. “Generally, the Pterodactylus specimens are not evenly distributed across the full size range but predominantly fall into distinct size-classes that are separated by marked gaps. The specimen from Painten is a rare representative of the first gap between the small and large sizes,” Pensoft quoted Augustin as saying.


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