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New kind of extinct flying reptile discovered by scientists

05.02.2013
A new kind of pterosaur, a flying reptile from the time of the dinosaurs, has been identified by scientists from the Transylvanian Museum Society in Romania, the University of Southampton in the UK and the Museau Nacional in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

The fossilised bones come from the Late Cretaceous rocks of Sebeþ-Glod in the Transylvanian Basin, Romania, which are approximately 68 million years old. The Transylvanian Basin is world-famous for its many Late Cretaceous fossils, including dinosaurs of many kinds, as well as fossilised mammals, turtles, lizards and ancient relatives of crocodiles.

A paper on the new species, named Eurazhdarcho langendorfensis has been published in the international science journal PLoS One. Dr Darren Naish, from the University of Southampton's Vertebrate Palaeontology Research Group, who helped identify the new species, says:

"Eurazhdarcho belong to a group of pterosaurs called the azhdarchids. These were long-necked, long-beaked pterosaurs whose wings were strongly adapted for a soaring lifestyle. Several features of their wing and hind limb bones show that they could fold their wings up and walk on all fours when needed.

"With a three-metre wingspan, Eurazhdarcho would have been large, but not gigantic. This is true of many of the animals so far discovered in Romania; they were often unusually small compared to their relatives elsewhere."

The discovery is the most complete example of an azhdarchid found in Europe so far and its discovery supports a long-argued theory about the behaviour of these types of creatures.

Dr Gareth Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology, based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton says:

"Experts have argued for years over the lifestyle and behaviour of azhdarchids. It has been suggested that they grabbed prey from the water while in flight, that they patrolled wetlands and hunted in a heron or stork-like fashion, or that they were like gigantic sandpipers, hunting by pushing their long bills into mud.

"One of the newest ideas is that azhdarchids walked through forests, plains and other places in search of small animal prey. Eurazhdarcho supports this view of azhdarchids, since these fossils come from an inland, continental environment where there were forests and plains as well as large, meandering rivers and swampy regions."

Fossils from the region show that there were several places where both giant azhdarchids and small azhdarchids lived side by side. Eurazhdarcho's discovery indicates that there were many different animals hunting different prey in the region at the same time, demonstrating a much more complicated picture of the Late Cretaceous world than first thought.

Notes for editors:

1. The accompanying graphics show a silhouette of the known bones of Eurazhdarcho in position. Azhdarchids were able to launch into the air from a standing start, as shown in the first image (Image by Mark Witton.)

The second graphic shows a map showing places around the world where the fossils of large and small azhdarchids have been found in close proximity. It seems that many Late Cretaceous habitats were inhabited by two or even three different azhdarchid species, all differing in size and presumably in lifestyle and behaviour. Image by Mark Witton, map provided by Ron Blakey, Colorado Plateau Geosystems, Inc.

2. A copy of the paper; Mátyás Vremir, Alexander W.A. Kellner, Darren Naish, Gareth J. Dyke (2013), 'A New Azhdarchid Pterosaur from the Late Cretaceous of the Transylvanian Basin, Romania: Implications for Azhdarchid Diversity and Distribution,' is available from Media Relations on request.

3. A further article by Darren Naish on the same topic is available online.

4. The National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is the UK's leading institution for integrated coastal and deep ocean research. NOC operates the Royal Research Ships James Cook and Discovery and develops technology for coastal and deep ocean research. Working with its partners NOC provides long-term marine science capability including: sustained ocean observing, mapping and surveying; data management and scientific advice.

The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, is the collaborative partnership between University of Southampton and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) scientists and engineers at the Southampton Waterfront Campus.

5. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship across a wide range of subjects in engineering, science, social sciences, health and humanities.

With over 23,000 students, around 5000 staff, and an annual turnover well in excess of £435 million, the University of Southampton is acknowledged as one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine. We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

The University is also home to a number of world-leading research centres including the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Institute for Life Sciences, the Web Science Trust and Doctoral training Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute and is a partner of the National Oceanography Centre at the Southampton waterfront campus.

For further information contact:

Charlotte Woods, Media Relations, University of Southampton, Tel: 023 8059 2128, email: C.Woods@soton.ac.uk

Catherine Beswick, Media and Communications Officer, National Oceanography Centre, Tel: 023 8059 8490, email: catherine.beswick@noc.ac.uk

www.soton.ac.uk/mediacentre/

Follow us on twitter: http://twitter.com/unisouthampton

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Charlotte Woods | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.soton.ac.uk

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