Sunday, 9 September 2012

Yet Another Species Of Winged Reptile

Les than a week ago, I reported on a new species of pterosaur recovered from the 150 million year old Solnhofen Plattenkalk in Bavaria, Germany. Named Bellubrunnus, the winged reptile was originally misidentified as a specimen of the more common Rhamphorhynchus. Yet the oddly shaped bones at the end of its wings identified a new species. Now, another, completely unknown, species of pterosaur has been unearthed just 100 miles from the ancient limestone quarry.

Recovered last year from the Wattendorf limestone formation near the town of Bamberg in Bavaria, the fossil left German palaeontologists scratching their heads. While the as-of-yet unnamed specimen was incredibly complete, the bones were jumbled and crossed over. Even when the skeleton had been plotted, analysed and reconstructed, its identification was unclear. Like Bellubrunnus, the creature's morphology is very bizarre.
The unnamed 155 million year old pterosaur from the Wattendorf limestones

While it was only the height of a raven, it had a wingspan of 1.2 metres and very long legs, making both limbs disproportionately large in relation to its body. It also had a very long, thin jaw packed with 400, peg-like teeth. At first the body plan did not make any sense, but then the discovery of something else embedded in the rock inbetween the pterosaur's ribs illuminated the mystery.

A closer look at the remains showed that there were small fish bones in the the stomach cavity of the reptile. This creature dwelt near water. Suddenly the purpose of its elongated limbs became clear. This pterosaur led a lifestyle similar to a crane or flamingo, using its long legs to stalk through deep water and its long skull with peg like teeth to pluck its prey from the water with pinpoint accuracy. It also had the ability to fly due to its large wings and small, lightweight torso.

The limestone in the region breaks apart like pages in a
book.Occasionally something miraculous is revealed
An abnormality on the lower jaw indicated that it had sustained an injury which affected its ability to feed, leading to its eventual demise. 'It's an extremely rare and wonderful specimen,' said pterosaur expert Eberhard Frey from the Karlsruhe Natural History Museum in Bamberg.' The fossil is currently on display at the museum in a special exhibition alongside other fossils from the Wattendorf limestone.

The rocks in the region have only been excavated since 2004, but in that time, more than 5,000 fossils of sharks, turtles, fish, snails and crocodiles have been uncovered. This pterosaur is a part of a unique ecosystem which existed next door to the world famous Solnhofen limestones. Some species overlap the two localities, forming an ancient coastal ecosystem which exited on the edge of the Tethys Ocean, an ecosystem which we are only just beginning to understand.