Wightia declivirostris: New Pterosaur Species Identified from Fossil Found in England
A new genus and species of pterosaur has been identified from a partial fossilized jaw collected on Isle of Wight, southern England.
The newly-discovered flying reptile lived during the Cretaceous period some 127 million years ago.
Named Wightia declivirostris, it belongs to Tapejaridae, a bizarre group of small- to medium-sized pterosaurs with wingspans of up to 4 m.
Most tapejarids had large, highly elaborate soft tissue crests sweeping up from the front of the skull. The crests were probably used in sexual display and may have been brightly colored.
These pterosaurs are well known from the Araripe Basin of northeast Brazil and the Jiufotang Formation of China. Elsewhere, however, their remains are exceedingly rare, with only fragmentary specimens reported from North Africa and Europe.
Wightia declivirostris is the first record of Tapejaridae in the United Kingdom.
“Despite the number of near complete skeletons of tapejarids from China and 3D-preserved examples from Brazil, elsewhere in the world, many tapejarids are highly fragmentary, and there remains much to learn about the group, especially from the tantalizing remains representing species from Spain, Morocco and now the Isle of Wight,” said University of Portsmouth’s Professor David Martill and colleagues.
The partial upper jaw bone (premaxilla) of Wightia declivirostris was found by fossil hunter John Winch in a plant debris bed of Wessex Formation at Yaverland, near Sandown on the Isle of Wight.
The specimen is the first record of Tapejaridae in this formation and is amongst the oldest record of tapejarids outside of China.
“Although only a fragment of jaw, it has all the characteristic of a tapejarid jaw, including numerous tiny little holes that held minute sensory organs for detecting their food, and a downturned, finely pointed beak,” said co-author Megan Jacobs, a student at the University of Portsmouth.
The paleontologists found that the fossil seemed more closely related to the tapejarid genus Sinopterus from China rather than Brazilian tapejarids such as Tapejara, Tupandactylus and Caiuajara.
“This new species adds to the diversity of dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles found on the Isle of Wight, which is now one of the most important places for Cretaceous dinosaurs in the world,” Professor Martill said.
The discovery is reported in a paper in the journal Cretaceous Research.
David M. Martill et al. 2020. First tapejarid pterosaur from the Wessex Formation (Wealden Group: Lower Cretaceous, Barremian) of the United Kingdom. Cretaceous Research 113: 104487; doi: 10.1016/j.cretres.2020.104487