Ancient flying reptiles didn't wait until full adulthood to have sex

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Washington, March 13 : Ancient flying reptiles or Pterosaurs didn't wait until they were full adults to have sex, just like their dinosaur relatives, according to a new study.

To reach the conclusion, the researchers led by Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, a paleobiologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, looked at microscopic tree ring-like growth markings in hundreds of bones from a species of the extinct Pterosaurs unearth in central Argentina in the 1990s.

The bones of Pterodaustro guinazui, which lived during the mid-Cretaceous, about a hundred million years ago, came from multiple individuals, including an embryo inside an egg and adults with wingspans between 1 to 8 feet.

After examining the bone samples, the tem discovered that the pterosaur reached about 53 percent of its adult body size in just two years.

The researchers said that during this point, the flying reptile was more likely to be sexually mature. They added that the pterosaur's growth continued slowly for three or four more years.

"Then they stopped growing and maybe they didn't live much longer," National Geographic quoted paleontologist and study co-author Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, California, as saying.

Chiappe added that their findings suggest that the flying reptiles, like dinosaurs, did not grow throughout their entire lives, as do modern turtles and crocodiles. Kristi Curry-Rogers, a paleontologist at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, who studies growth patterns in dinosaurs, said that the pterosaur growth pattern is parallel to what she and other scientists have found in a variety of dinosaurs.

"All of them grow faster than modern reptiles, and none of them grow as fast as modern birds. That's something that's consistent across analyses," Curry-Rogers said.

However, other scientists argue that such a growth strategy helped dinosaurs pass on their genes before the harsh, and often fatal, realities of older age set in.

Chiappe said that since the tree ring-like growth marks end once a pterosaur has reached adult size, he and colleagues are unsure how long P. guinazui lived.

However, he pointed out that only a few individuals in their sample of hundreds of pterosaurs appeared to be more than six or seven years old.

"It's likely that these animals did not live very long," Chiappe said.

The study appears in the journal Biology Letters.

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