December 4, 2008

New Flying Reptile Fossil Discovered

Scientist have uncovered a new fossil species of flying reptile with the wingspan the size of a family car.

The fossil has been identified as a new type of pterosaur, by a researcher at the University of Portsmouth, and it's the largest of its kind to ever be discovered.

Scientists suggest that it would have flown in the skies above Brazil 115 million years ago.

The wingspan is estimated by Mark Witton to be 16.4ft and would have been more than 39in tall at the shoulder.

The partial skull fossil, which was found in Brazil, is the first example of a chaoyangopteridae, a group of toothless pterosaurs, found outside of China.

"Some of the previous examples we have from this family in China are just 60cm (2ft) long - as big as the skull of the new species," said Witton.

"Put simply, it dwarfs any chaoyangopterid we've seen before by miles."

The new species was named Lacusovagus, meaning lake wanderer, after the large body of water in which the remains were buried.

It once laid in a German museum for several years after its discovery in the Crato formation of the Araripe Basin in north east Brazil, which is well known for its fossils.

"Usually fossils like this are found lying on their sides but this one was lying on the roof of its mouth and had been rather squashed, which made even figuring out whether it had teeth difficult," said Witton.

He added, "still, it's clear to see that Lacusovagus had an unusually wide skull, which has implications for it's feeding habits - maybe it liked particularly large prey.  The remains are very fragmentary, however, so we need more specimens before we can draw any conclusions."

"The discovery of something like this in Brazil - so far away from its closest relatives in China - demonstrates how little we actually know about the distribution and evolutionary history of this fascinating group of creatures," said Witton.

Witton's discoveries were published in the journal Paleontology in November.


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