An international team of scientists, including several Spaniards, has discovered a new species of flying reptile called Iberodactylus andreui. It is a giant pterosaur of great wingspan that, with wings extended, measured about four meters from end to end, more than any current bird. This colossus flew over the skies of the current province of Teruel some 125 million years ago. It is the third and largest species of this group described in the Iberian Peninsula.
The rest of the fossil, described in the “Scientific Report” magazine, which has enabled the new species to be described, was found in a site in the town of Obón (some 100 km north of the city of Teruel) and consists of the part of the animal’s nose. One of its distinctive anatomical features is a bone crest, a protuberance in the upper part of the skull. “The function of this ridge is not clear, but it is probably a character of sexual dimorphism (difference between males and females) as seen in other related pterosaur species,” explains Borja Holgado, research associate at the Catalan Institute of Paleontology Miquel Crusafont (ICP) and leader of the study.
The remains of pterosaurs are very scarce in the fossil record. Their bones are fragile and hollow to facilitate the flight of such large animals, and this decreases the likelihood of fossilization. The fossil that has served to describe the new species is deposited in the collections of the Museum of Natural Sciences of the University of Zaragoza. The specific name refers to Javier Andreu, its discoverer.
The fossil of the flying reptile, 20 cm long
The fossil of the flying reptile, 20 cm long – ICP
He ate fish
The rest found also retain some teeth that have allowed them to deduct their diet. “The premaxila has some rows of conical teeth that indicate that it fed on fish”, comments Jose Ignacio Canudo, head of the Aragosaurus group at the University of Zaragoza. Recent studies of the small abrasions left by food on the teeth of pterosaurs have revealed that within this group there were species that fed on fish, while others hunted terrestrial vertebrates or insects.
The pterosaurs were the first group of vertebrates to develop active flight. The structure of their wings was similar to that of today’s bats, with a large membrane held by the front extremity that allowed them to propel themselves, but with the difference that it was held by a hypertrophied finger and not by the whole hand as in bats.
The size of an airplane
Although they are often mistakenly referred to as “flying dinosaurs,” pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, although they are related to them. This group of reptiles emerged some 228 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic period, and dominated the Mesozoic era skies for more than 160 million years, becoming extinct along with non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous, 66 million years ago. There are now over a hundred known species worldwide, including the largest flying animals of all time. Quetzalcoatlus, for example, was estimated to be 11 meters in size, the size of a small airplane.
Iberodactylus would be related to Hamipterus tianshanensis, a species from Northwest China. Both species have been included in the same new family, the Hamipteridae. The research also focuses on the evolution and diversification of the Anhangueria lineage, which includes not only hamiptera, but also other large cresting piscivorous pterosaurs such as Anhanguera piscator or Tropeognathus mesembrinus. The present work concludes that the origin of this lineage would be located in the land masses that today constitute Eurasia.