A new species of prehistoric flying reptile, or pterosaur, has been officially named Petrodactyle wellnhoferi. It was discovered by an international team of researchers hailing from Britain, America, and Germany.
The creature, initially nicknamed “Elvis” because of a massive pompadour-like bony crest adorning its skull, was found as a fossil in Bavaria, Germany.
The pterosaur’s name, Petrodactyle wellnhoferi, is a tribute to renowned German paleontologist Peter Wellnhofer. Known for his extensive research on German pterosaurs, the creature’s name translates to “Wellnhofer’s stone-finger.”
This new find is a member of the ctenochasmatids, a group of pterosaurs known primarily as small filter feeders. This species is special because of its extraordinarily complete skeleton, which is almost entirely intact and detailed.
Crests are a known feature among many pterosaurs, often used as a form of communication for mating, but the Petrodactyle has the largest crest ever discovered in a ctenochasmatid, according to the research team.
Dr. David Hone, the lead author of the study from Queen Mary University of London, explained, “Big though this crest is, we know that these pterosaurs had skin-like extensions attached to it, so in life, Petrodactyle would have had an even larger crest”.
Upon inspection under UV light, the specimen’s details are remarkably visible, effectively distinguishing the bones from the rock surrounding them. This method has proven especially beneficial as the bones and rock share a similar coloration in natural light.
“The use of UV Induced Fluorescence digital photography provided the ability to discern fine structures small bones and provided additional information regarding the structures of the bony crest which aided in the interpretations and conclusions of this unique new species,” said René Lauer of the Lauer Foundation, a collaborator on the study.
With a wingspan measuring around 2 meters, the Petrodactyle was an unusually large creature. However, this measurement was from when it was just an older ‘teenager’ in pterosaur terms.
This suggests it would have grown even larger had it reached maturity. Consequently, many consider it one of the largest pterosaurs known from the Late Jurassic period.
“The specimen was located in a quarry which is producing scientifically important fossils that provide additional insights into Late Jurassic Pterosaurs,” said Bruce Lauer of the Lauer Foundation.
“This research is a great example of the benefits of cooperation between amateur collectors, commercial fossil dealers, our Foundation, and research scientists to advance science.”
Like its relatives, the Petrodactyle likely spent its time along the shore of shallow seas. However, it could have also ventured into estuaries or lakes. Pterodactyle wellnhoferi had a long jaw and many small teeth, making it perfect for catching small fish, shrimp, and other aquatic prey.
Yet, it also had unique traits. Unlike most other ctenochasmatids, it had an expansion at the back of its skull. This feature accommodated larger jaw muscles, granting it a more powerful bite than its contemporaries.
“It is amazing to document an increasingly wide range of adaptations. Pterosaurs were a fundamental part of the Jurassic ecology”, stated Frederik Spindler from the Dinosaurier Museum in Germany, who also worked on the study.
Reflecting on the importance of the discovery, Dr. Hone stated, “Peter Wellnhofer is long overdue having a species of German pterosaur named after him to honor his lifelong contribution to the study of these amazing animals”.
The Lauer Foundation, a significant contributor to the study, acquires, curates, and provides access to a collection of scientifically important Palaeontological specimens. The scientific community can access these collections for research, publication, exhibition, and educational outreach.
People often use the term “Pterodactyl” to refer to all pterosaurs, a group of flying reptiles that coexisted with dinosaurs. However, the term “pterodactyl” technically refers to a specific genus of pterosaurs known as Pterodactylus.
Here’s what we know about Pterodactylus and pterosaurs in general:
Pterodactylus lived during the late Jurassic Period, around 150.8-148.5 million years ago.
The size of Pterodactylus individuals varied, with wingspans ranging from about 1.25 to 1.4 meters (4.1 to 4.6 feet).
Researchers have found most fossils of Pterodactylus in present-day Germany, but they have also discovered them in other parts of Europe and Africa.
They were likely carnivorous, feeding on fish and other small animals.
Pterodactylus had a relatively small body, a long tail, and long, narrow wings covered in a membranous material. Like all pterosaurs, Pterodactylus had hollow bones, a characteristic that made it lightweight and adapted for flight. They also had very colorful feathers.
Pterosaurs lived from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period (228 to 66 million years ago).
Over 100 species of pterosaurs have been identified, ranging in size from those as small as a bird to others with a wingspan comparable to a small airplane.
Many pterosaurs were carnivorous, feeding on fish, invertebrates, and possibly carrion. Some smaller species may have eaten insects.
Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight. Unlike birds and bats, which have arms and hands separate from their wings, the wings of pterosaurs were formed by a membrane of skin and muscle stretching from the ankles or tail to a dramatically lengthened fourth finger.
Pterosaurs were not dinosaurs but did share a common ancestor with them. One key difference is in the hip structure. Dinosaurs have either a bird-like or lizard-like hip structure, while pterosaurs have a unique hip structure.
Pterosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period, along with the dinosaurs, in an event often attributed to a massive asteroid or comet impact.
Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight. Their wings formed from a membrane stretching from their ankles or tail to a dramatically elongated fourth finger.
Pterosaurs weren’t dinosaurs but shared a common ancestor. They differed in hip structure, with pterosaurs having a unique hip structure.