Scientists Discover New Kind of Flying Pterosaur

First Posted: Feb 04, 2013 12:49 PM EST

About 68 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period, a pterosaur flew through the skies. Known as Eurazhdarcho langendorfensis, the giant lizard belonged to a group of pterosaurs called the azhdarchids. They possessed long necks and long beaks, and had wings that were specifically designed for soaring. Yet before now, researchers didn't even know this particular flying creature existed. Scientists from the Transylvanian Museum Society in Romania, the University of Southampton in the UK and the Museau Nacional in Rio de Janiero have recently identified the pterosaur as a new species of azhdarchid.

The remains of the pterosaur were found in the Transylvanian Basin, which is world-famous for its many Late Cretaceous fossils which range from mammals to ancient relatives of crocodiles. The discovery is the most complete example of an azhdarchid found in Europe so far.

The finding supports a long-argued theory about the behavior of these types of creatures. Some supported the idea that they grabbed prey from the water while in flight, while others thought that they were like gigantic sandpipers and hunted by pushing their long pills into the mud. Yet now, both of these theories have been called into question. The latest fossil was found in an inland, continental environment, which supports the idea that azhdarchids walked through forests, plains and other areas in search of small animal prey.

By examining the fossil, scientists were able to deduce that the pterosaur had a three meter wingspan and could fold these wings and walk on all fours when needed. Additional fossils from the region show that there were several places where both giant and small azhdarchids lived side by side. The fact that there were many different animals hunting different prey in this area at the same time shows scientists that the Late Cretaceous had a far more complex ecosystem than once thought.

The latest findings are published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

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