A skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland illuminates an earlier origin of large pterosaurs
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Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve flight1,2 and include the largest flying animals in Earth history.3,4 While some of the last-surviving species were the size of airplanes, pterosaurs were long thought to be restricted to small body sizes (wingspans ca. <1.8–1.6 m) from their Triassic origins through the Jurassic, before increasing in size when derived long-skulled and short-tailed pterodactyloids lived alongside a diversity of birds in the Cretaceous.5 We report a new spectacularly preserved three-dimensional skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland, which we assign to a new genus and species: Dearc sgiathanach gen. et sp. nov. Its wingspan is estimated at >2.5 m, and bone histology shows it was a juvenile-subadult still actively growing when it died, making it the largest known Jurassic pterosaur represented by a well-preserved skeleton. A review of fragmentary specimens from the Middle Jurassic of England demonstrates that a diversity of pterosaurs was capable of reaching larger sizes at this time but have hitherto been concealed by a poor fossil record. Phylogenetic analysis places D. sgiathanach in a clade of basal long-tailed non-monofenestratan pterosaurs, in a subclade of larger-bodied species (Angustinaripterini) with elongate skulls convergent in some aspects with pterodactyloids.6 Far from a static prologue to the Cretaceous, the Middle Jurassic was a key interval in pterosaur evolution, in which some non-pterodactyloids diversified and experimented with larger sizes, concurrent with or perhaps earlier than the origin of birds.
Jagielska , N , O’Sullivan , M , Funston , G F , Butler , I B , Challands , T J , Clark , N D L , Fraser , N C , Penny , A , Ross , D A , Wilkinson , M & Brusatte , S L 2022 , ' A skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland illuminates an earlier origin of large pterosaurs ' , Current Biology , vol. 32 , no. 6 , pp. 1446-1453 . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.01.073
DescriptionFunding: The authors thank the National Geographic Society (GEFNE185-16 to PI S.L.B.) for funding the fieldtrip on which the new pterosaur was found, a Philip Leverhulme Prize (to S.L.B.) for funding Edinburgh’s palaeontology laboratory, NERC for N.J.’s E4DTP studentship (NE/S007407/1), and the Royal Society (NIF\R1\191527 to G.F.F.) for funding the paleohistology workspace.
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