Nav: Home

Spectacular flying reptiles soared over Britain's tropical Jurassic past

December 20, 2018

Spectacular flying reptiles armed with long teeth and claws which once dominated the skies have been rediscovered, thanks a palaeontology student's PhD research.

Dr Michael O'Sullivan, at the University of Portsmouth, has uncovered evidence of well armed and substantial flying reptiles from historically important, but overlooked, British Jurassic fossils.

He's also found a new species of pterosaur with a wingspan of two metres - as large as a modern mute swan, and a giant in its time.

Some 200 fossils of flying reptiles - pterosaurs - have been collected over the last two centuries from the Stonesfield Slate, but their significance has been long neglected by palaeontologists, probably because they are mere fragments.

Closer inspection has revealed evidence of multiple pterosaur lineages in the UK's Jurassic past, including some unexpectedly large and formidably armed species.

The research is Published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica where it is highlighted as 'editor's choice'.

Dr O'Sullivan, in the University's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: "It's large fangs would have meshed together to form a toothy cage, from which little could escape once Klobiodon had gotten a hold of it.

"The excellent marine reptiles and ammonites of the UK's Jurassic heritage are widely known, but we celebrate our Jurassic flying reptiles far less.

"The Stonesfield pterosaurs are rarely pretty or spectacular, but they capture a time in flying reptile evolution which is poorly represented globally. They have an important role to play in not only understanding the UK's natural history, but help us understand the bigger global picture as well."

He has named the new species Klobiodon rochei.

The generic name means 'cage tooth', in reference to its huge, fang-like teeth - up to 26mm long at a time when few pterosaurs had any teeth - and the species name honours comic book artist Nick Roche in recognition of the role popular media has in how extinct animals are portrayed.

Only the lower jaw of Klobiodon is known, but it has a unique dental configuration that allows it to be distinguished from other pterosaurs. It was likely a gull or tern-like creature - a coastal flier that caught fish and squid using its enormous teeth, swallowing them whole.

Much of Dr O'Sullivan's research has involved untangling the messy science associated with these neglected specimens.

He said: "Klobiodon has been known to us for centuries, archived in a museum drawer and seen by dozens or hundreds of scientists, but it's significance has been overlooked because it's been confused with another species since the 1800s."

Klobiodon and the other Stonesfield pterosaurs lived alongside one of the most famous and important dinosaurs in the world, the predatory Megalosaurus, the first dinosaur ever named. But as global sea levels were higher, and the world was much warmer, their Jurassic Britain was a series of large tropical islands.

Dr O'Sullivan was examining the Stonesfield pterosaur collections held in museums across the UK for his PhD studies when he found evidence of three distinct types of pterosaur, some of which are the oldest of their kind, as well as evidence of a new pterosaur species.

Stonesfield Slate, where the new pterosaur fossils were found, is a rich source of Jurassic fossils about 10 miles northwest of Oxford. It is where, in 1824, Britain's first discovered dinosaur, the Megalosaurus, was found.

The quantity and quality of such fossils from the area might be why these fragments have until now been overlooked.
-end-


University of Portsmouth

Related Fossils Articles:

Tiny fossils reveal backstory of the most mysterious amphibian alive
Researchers have determined that the fossils of an extinct species from the Triassic Period are the long-missing link that connects Kermit the Frog's amphibian brethren to wormlike creatures with a backbone and two rows of sharp teeth.
Moroccan fossils show human ancestors' diet of game
New fossil finds from the Jebel Irhoud archaeological site in Morocco do more than push back the origins of our species by 100,000 years.
South African cave yields yet more fossils of a newfound relative
Probing deeper into the South African cave system known as Rising Star, which last year yielded the largest cache of hominin fossils known to science, an international team of researchers has discovered another chamber with more remains of a newfound human relative, Homo naledi.
Research sheds new light on 'world's oldest animal fossils'
A team of researchers, led by the University of Bristol, has uncovered that ancient fossils, thought to be some of the world's earliest examples of animal remains, could in fact belong to other groups such as algae.
Viral fossils reveal how our ancestors may have eliminated an ancient infection
Scientists have uncovered how our ancestors may have wiped out an ancient retrovirus around 11 million years ago.
World's oldest plant-like fossils discovered
Scientists at the Swedish Museum of Natural History have found fossils of 1.6 billion-year-old probable red algae.
World's oldest fossils unearthed
Remains of microorganisms at least 3,770 million years old have been discovered by an international team led by UCL scientists, providing direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth.
New study gives weight to Darwin's theory of 'living fossils'
A team of researchers from the University of Bristol studying the 'living fossil' Sphenodon -- or tuatara -- have identified a new way to measure the evolutionary rate of these enigmatic creatures, giving credence to Darwin's theory of 'living fossils.'
Fossils found reveal unseen 'footprint' maker
Fossils found in Morocco from the long-extinct group of sea creatures called trilobites, including rarely seen soft-body parts, may be previously unseen animals that left distinctive fossil 'footprints' around the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.
The best way to include fossils in the 'tree of life'
A team of scientists from the University of Bristol has suggested that we need to use a fresh approach to analyze relationships in the fossil record to show how all living and extinct species are related in the 'tree of life.'

Related Fossils Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...