Rare flying reptile Aetodactylus halli identified as new pterosaur genus, species

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Washington, Apr 28 (ANI): Scientists have identified a 95 million-year-old fossilized jaw discovered in Texas-it is a new genus and species of flying reptile, Aetodactylus halli.

Aetodactylus halli is a pterosaur, a group of flying reptiles commonly referred to as pterodactyls.

The rare pterosaur - literally a winged lizard - is also one of the youngest members in the world of the pterosaur family Ornithocheiridae, according to paleontologist Timothy S. Myers, who identified and named Aetodactylus halli.

The newly identified reptile is only the second ornithocheirid ever documented in North America, said Myers.

The Texas specimen - a nearly complete mandible with most of its 54 teeth missing - is definitively younger than most other ornithocheirid specimens from Brazil, England and China, he added.

It is five million years younger than the only other known North American ornithocheirid.

Myers named the pterosaur Aetodactylus halli after Lance Hall, a member of the Dallas Paleontological Society who hunts fossils for a hobby.

Hall found the specimen in 2006 in North Texas. It was embedded in a soft, powdery shale exposed by excavation of a hillside next to a highway.

The Aetodactylus halli jaw was discovered in the geologic unit known as the Eagle Ford Group, which comprises sediments deposited in a shallow sea, said Myers.

"I was scanning the exposure and noticed what at first I thought was a piece of oyster shell spanning across a small erosion valley," Hall recalls of the discovery.

The 38.4-centimeter Aetodactylus jaw originally contained 54 slender, pointed teeth, but only two remain in their sockets, said Myers.

The lower teeth were evenly spaced and extended far back along the jaw, covering nearly three quarters of the length of the mandible. The upper and lower teeth interlaced when the jaws were closed.

However, Aetodactylus differs from all other ornithocheirids in that its jaws were thin and delicate, with a maximum thickness not much greater than 1 centimeter, Myers says.

Myers has estimated the wingspan around roughly 3 meters, or about 9 feet, indicating Aetodactylus would have been a "medium-sized" pterosaur, he said.

"Discovery of another ornithocheirid species in Texas hints at a diversity of pterosaurs in the Cretaceous of North America that wasn't previously realized. Aetodactylus also represents one of the final occurrences of ornithocheirids prior to the Late Cretaceous transition to pterosaur faunas that were dominated by the edentulous, or toothless, species," said Myers.

The study has been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. (ANI)

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