New Pterosaur Fossils Unearthed in Morocco
Paleontologists have uncovered the remains of three species of fish-eating toothed pterosaurs in the Cretaceous-period Kem Kem beds of Morocco.
Pterosaurs were Earth’s first winged vertebrates, with birds and bats making their appearances much later.
They thrived from about 210 to 65 million years ago, when they were wiped out by the asteroid that also doomed the non-avian dinosaurs.
Some pterosaurs, such as the giant azhdarchids, were the largest flying animals of all time, with wingspans exceeding 9.1 m (30 feet) and standing heights comparable to modern giraffes.
The three new specimens were obtained from fossil miners in a small village called Beggaa, just outside Erfoud in southeast Morocco.
They are 100 million years old (Cretaceous period), and belong to Anhanguera, Ornithocheirus and Coloborhynchus genera.
Anhanguera was only known to be from Brazil. Ornithocheirus had until now only been found in England and Middle Asia.
Their addition raises the total diversity of pterosaurs from the Kem Kem beds to at least nine species, including five ornithocheird pterosaurs and at least four azhdarchids.
“Pterosaur remains are very rare, with most known from Europe, South America and Asia,” said study’s lead author Megan Jacobs, a doctoral candidate at Baylor University.
“These new finds are very exciting and provide a window into the world of pterosaurs in Cretaceous Africa.”
Jacobs and colleagues found that these African pterosaurs were quite similar to those found on other continents.
Their world included crocodile-like hunters and carnivorous dinosaurs, with few herbivores. Many predators, including the toothed pterosaurs, preyed on a superabundance of fish.
“For such large animals, they would have weighed very little,” Jacobs said.
“Their wingspans were around 3 to 4 m (10-13 feet), with their bones almost paper-thin and full of air, very similar to birds.”
“This allowed these awesome creatures to reach incredible sizes and still be able to take off and soar the skies.”
The study is published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
Megan L. Jacobs et al. 2020. New toothed pterosaurs (Pterosauria: Ornithocheiridae) from the middle Cretaceous Kem Kem beds of Morocco and implications for pterosaur palaeobiogeography and diversity. Cretaceous Research 110: 104413; doi: 10.1016/j.cretres.2020.104413