A skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland illuminates an earlier origin of large pterosaurs

Jagielska, N. et al. (2022) A skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland illuminates an earlier origin of large pterosaurs. Current Biology, 32(6), 1446-1453.e4. (doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.01.073) (PMID:35196508)

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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.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information: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.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Clark, Dr Neil
Authors: 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., and Brusatte, S. L.
College/School:University Services > Library and Collection Services > Museum and Art Gallery
Journal Name:Current Biology
Publisher:Elsevier (Cell Press)
ISSN (Online):1879-0445
Published Online:22 February 2022
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2022 The Authors
First Published:First published in Current Biology 32(6): 1446-1453.e4
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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