Paleontologists working in the Patagonia region of South America have reportedly discovered a new species of pterosaur, a now-extinct group of flying reptiles that lived during throughout the Mesozoic Era, according to new research published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ.
As lead author Dr. Diego Pol of the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio and his colleagues explained, the new species was identified by well-preserved cranial remains found in the Chubut Province region of south Argentina and has been called Allkauren koi from the native Tehuelche words for brain (‘all’) and ancient (‘karuen’).
Like other pterosaurs, it is believed that this creature possessed the ability to fly thanks primarily to the creature’s lightweight pneumatic bone structure, as well as the presence of elongated digits capable of supporting a wing membrane, the researchers explained in a press release.
However, the brain and nervous system structure of these creatures were previously known only through a series of three-dimensionally preserved fossils. The discovery of Allkauren koi and its well-preserved cranial remains should provide scientists with a new opportunity to analyze their brain structure and learn more about the origins and the evolution of these flying reptiles.
Discovery just the latest to come out of Central and South America
According to Dr. Pol’s team, Allkauren koi lived during the Early Jurassic period, and among the fossils they were able to recover was an uncrushed braincase. Using CT scanning technology, the researchers managed to observe its cranial endocast and inner ear in 3D, and afterward, the team performed a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of newly-discovered fossils.
“Allkaruen, from the middle lower Jurassic limit, shows an intermediate state in the brain evolution of pterosaurs and their adaptations to the aerial environment. As a result, this research makes an important contribution to the understanding of the evolution of all of pterosaurs,” said Dr. Pol, who has published more than 70 research papers on Mesozoic Era reptiles to date.
If Dr. Pol’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he previously worked as part of the team which identified the Titanosaur, the 122-foot-long plant eater that has been dubbed “the world’s largest dinosaur.” That creature, which was identified by more than 200 fossils representing about 70% of its total skeleton and an estimated six different specimens, also called the forests of Patagonia home, living there between 95 and 100 million years ago.
During the unveiling of the Titanosaur’s cast last year, he touted the area as a relatively untapped hotbed for dinosaur fossils: “We are finding these creatures in South America and Central Asia, places that are much less explored. About half of the known titanosaur species come from South America, and… [they] were the ones who achieved the largest body sizes.”
Image credit: Gabriel Lío