Courtesy of Peter Trussler/Curtin University
Artist’s drawing of a pterosaur.
Pterosaurs, the world’s oldest flying reptiles, have been taking to the skies over Australia as far back as 107 million years, according to a study published on Wednesday.
Paleontologists came to this conclusion after examining two pieces of prehistoric bones excavated from Dinosaur Cove — a fossil-bearing site in the Australian state of Victoria — more than three decades ago.
The specimens turned out to be the oldest pterosaur remains ever found in the country, according to the study, which was published in the journal Science. History of Biology Wednesday.
The giant creature was the first vertebrate to develop the ability to fly and lived alongside dinosaurs during the Mesozoic Era, which began 252 million years ago.
Experts from Curtin University and Museums Victoria Melbourne, based in Perth, examined the bones of two individuals, including a wing bone belonging to the first juvenile pterosaur ever reported in Australia.
Courtesy of Adele Pentland/Curtin University
Pterosaur bones discovered at Dinosaur Cove in Victoria, Australia.
A piece of pelvic bone has been found to have come from a pterosaur with a wingspan of more than 2 meters (6.5 ft). Some pterosaurs had wingspans over 10 meters (33 ft).
The Australian specimens were discovered during excavations at Dinosaur Cove in the 1980s, led by paleontologists Tom Rich and Pat Vickers Rich, of the Museums Research Institute of Victoria.
The lead author of the study published Wednesday, Adele Pentland of Curtin University, told CNN that the discovery showed that the massive creatures hovered over Australia tens of millions of years ago, despite the harsh conditions during the Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago), When Victoria was in the dark for weeks on end.
“Australia was much further south than it is today,” she said, adding that the location where the two specimens were found was in the Arctic Circle at the time.
She said fewer than 25 groups of pterosaur remains belonging to four species have been found in Australia since the 1980s. By comparison, she added, in places like Brazil and Argentina, more than 100 clusters have been recovered in individual locations.
Pentland, a PhD student, attributed the three decades it took her to confirm the current specimens to a lack of enthusiasm about the species in the country, until she took them in and “finally gave them a chance in the sun.”
In a statement, Rich, of the Museums Research Institute of Victoria, said it was “great” to see the excavations carried out at Dinosaur Cove in the 1980s come to fruition.
At the time, volunteers had spent years digging a 60-meter tunnel into the coastal cliff where the bones were found.
“These two excavations were the result of a labor-intensive effort by more than 100 volunteers over a decade,” he added.
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