Tiniest pterosaur found in British Columbia

by Mary Caperton Morton
Monday, December 12, 2016

Pterosaurs have a gargantuan reputation: Most fossils of the flying reptiles have wingspans similar to a small plane. But the recent discovery of fragmentary fossils from an eagle-sized specimen in British Columbia shows that not all pterosaurs were huge.

The new fossils, found on Hornby Island northwest of Vancouver, are 77 million years old and belong to an azhdarchoid pterosaur with a wingspan of about 1.5 meters — the smallest pterosaur found to date. Microscopic sections of the fossils confirmed that the animal was a full-grown adult, not a juvenile. It’s also one of the only pterosaur fossils found on the west coast of North America, scientists reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Paleontologists have long blamed competition with early birds for the lack of small- to moderate-sized pterosaurs, suggesting that pterosaurs adapted by evolving larger body sizes, putting them in a different ecological niche. Most fossil pterosaurs from 100 million to 66 million years ago have wingspans between 4 and 11 meters. “This new pterosaur is exciting because it suggests that small pterosaurs were present all the way until the end of the Cretaceous, and weren’t outcompeted by birds,” said lead author Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone of the University of Southampton in England in a statement.

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