Discovered in Xinjiang of northwestern China, five fossilized pterosaur eggs and 40 adult fossils of a newly identified species dating from 100-120 million years ago offer a better understanding of the lifestyle and gender differences of pterosaurs, flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs.
The species in question is called Hamipterus tianshanensis, because scientists love to make things easy! Reuters reports:
The site was remarkable for what it reveals about how pterosaurs lived. At least 40 male and female individuals have been identified, and there may be hundreds in all, Wang [a researcher] said.
The site indicates pterosaurs lived in large colonies, in this case nesting near the lake and burying eggs in moist sand to prevent them from becoming desiccated […].
“One of the significant (aspects) of this discovery – hundreds of individuals and eggs together from one site – is that it confirmed that pterosaurs were gregarious, and the population size is surprisingly large,” Zhou [director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology] said.
The fossils illustrated important sex differences in pterosaurs. For example, males possessed distinctly larger head crests.
“In Hamipterus, size, shape and robustness are decided by the gender,” Wang said, adding that this contradicts a previous notion that “sexual dimorphism in pterosaurs was only reflected in the absence or presence of the crests.”
This is a great step forward as our understanding of these reptiles was very limited and researches believe the site is full of other ‘missing links.’
The full report of this incredible finding can be found in the journal Current Biology. When it comes to the study of prehistoric times, China truly is a gold mine! Last year, a fish fossil with human jaw found in the Xiaoxiang Reservoir offered one of the missing pieces to the evolutionary puzzle…
By Aliaume Leroy
[Image via Ryan Khatam]