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New Species of Pterosaur Unearthed in Angola

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Paleontologists have identified a new genus and species of pteranodontian pterosaur from fossilized bones found in the Republic of Angola.

An artist’s impression of Pteranodon. Image credit: Heinrich Harder.

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight. These creatures lived at the same time as non-avian dinosaurs, between 210 million and 65 million years ago.

Some pterosaurs, such as the giant azhdarchids, were the largest flying animals in Earth history, with wingspans up to 12 m (39 feet) and standing heights comparable to modern giraffes.

The newly-identified pterosaur species had an estimated wingspan of up to 4.8 m (15.7 feet).

Named Epapatelo otyikokolo, it lived in what is now the African country of Angola during the Maastrichtian age of the Cretaceous period, between 71.6 and 71.4 million years ago.

“Pterosaur discoveries in Africa have been relatively sparse, with main fossil concentrations on the continent occurring in northern countries, and disparate occurrences occurring further south,” said Dr. Alexandra Fernandes, a paleontologist at the Museu da Lourinhã, the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa and the Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie, and her colleagues.

“This distribution is likely due to sparse field sampling and the potential unavailability of Mesozoic exposures throughout sub-Saharan Africa.”

“In addition, the majority of what has been unearthed across Africa thus far are found as isolated bones. Most localities are Cretaceous in age, with some Jurassic sites as well.”

According to the researchers, Epapatelo otyikokolo belongs to the pterosaur family Pteranodontia.

“Our phylogenetic analysis confirms a non-nyctosaurid pteranodontian attribution for this new species and supports a new apomorphy-based clade, Aponyctosauria, which is defined in our paper,” they explained.

“Late Cretaceous pteranodontians are rare in Sub-Saharan Africa and throughout the southern hemisphere.”

The fossilized remains of several individuals of Epapatelo otyikokolo and other pterosaurs were found in the upper portion of the Mucuio Formation near the commune of Bentiaba in Angola’s Namibe province.

“The Republic of Angola, on the west coast of southern Africa, is home to the arid Namibe desert region and has abundant fossiliferous outcrops,” the scientists said.

“By the Late Maastrichtian, Angola’s present-day coastline had already formed, and Africa had essentially become isolated from other continental landmasses, meaning that inhabitant species were able to be further endemically specialized into their own unique paleobiology.”

The fossil assemblage from the Mucuio Formation provides a first glimpse of Angolan pterosaur paleobiodiversity providing further insight into the Gondwanan ecosystems of the Upper Cretaceous epoch.

“We hypothesize that Angolan pterosaurs entered the marine realm while feeding, much in the same way as modern seabirds such as gannets and brown pelicans (species that forage through plunge-diving),” the authors said.

“In addition to taphonomic evidence and the abundance of top consumers, the distribution of pterosaurs remains is consistent with the interpretation of Bentiaba as representing a rich upwelling area that supported a diverse community along the Cretaceous African coast, including plunge-diving pterosaurs in their foraging areas.”

“Further fieldwork and sampling from this abundant locality would certainly yield much more insight into the paleobiodiversity of the Lower Maastrichtian, both globally and for Africa in particular.”

The discovery of Epapatelo otyikokolo is reported in a paper in the journal Diversity.

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Alexandra E. Fernandes et al. 2022. Pterosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of Angola. Diversity 14 (9): 741; doi: 10.3390/d14090741

Source : Breaking Science News

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