152 Million Years Old – Scientists Discover the Oldest Pterodactylus Fossil Yet

Pterodactylus antiquus

Pterodactylus antiquus, DMA-JP-2014/004, from the Upper Jurassic (Kimmeridgian) Torleite Formation of Painten; overview photograph. Credit: Augustin et al.

Pterosaurs were a group of flying reptiles that lived during the dinosaur era, from the Late Triassic period (227 million years ago) until the end-Cretaceous extinction event (66 million years ago). These reptiles had wingspans that ranged from 1 to 12 meters and were the dominant species in the skies for over 160 million years.

The first known and named pterosaur was Pterodactylus, which was discovered in the Solnhofen Limestone of Bavaria, Germany. Pterodactylus was named and first described by the Italian naturalist Cosimo Alessandro Collini in 1784. Originally, this fossil was thought to be an aquatic animal, but it was later determined to be a flying reptile belonging to a new and previously unknown group by the French naturalist Georges Cuvier.

The oldest specimen of this iconic pterosaur was recently found near Painten, a small town in the southern part of the Franconian Alb in central Bavaria. The fossil, described in a study in the journal Fossil Record, is about one million years older than other Pterodactylus specimens.

Pterodactylus antiquus Skull

A picture of Pterodactylusd antiquus‘ skull. Credit: Augustin et al.

The specimen was unearthed in 2014 during excavations in an active limestone quarry. It took more than 120 hours of meticulous mechanical work using pneumatic tools and needles before the researchers could study it. The research team behind the discovery are Felix Augustin, Andreas Matzke, Panagiotis Kampouridis, and Josephina Hartung from the University of Tübingen (Germany) and Raimund Albersdörfer from the Dinosaurier Museum Altmühltal (Germany).

“The rocks of the quarry, which yielded the new Pterodactylus specimen, consist of silicified limestone that has been dated to the upper Kimmeridgian stage (around 152 million years ago),” explains Felix Augustin of the University of Tübingen, who is the lead author of the study. “Previously, Pterodactylus had only been found in younger rocks of southern Germany belonging to the Tithonian stage that follows after the Kimmeridgian”.

The specimen is a complete, well-preserved skeleton of a small-sized individual. “Only a very small portion of the left mandible as well as of the left and right tibia is missing. Otherwise, the skeleton is nearly perfectly preserved with every bone present and in its roughly correct anatomical position,” the researchers write in their study.

With a 5 cm-long skull, the Painten Pterodactylus represents a rare “sub-adult” individual. “Generally, the Pterodactylus specimens are not evenly distributed across the full-size range but predominantly fall into distinct size classes that are separated by marked gaps. The specimen from Painten is a rare representative of the first gap between the small and large sizes,” explains Augustin. “The Painten Pterodactylus was of an intermediate, and rarely found, ontogenetic age at the time of its death, between two consecutive year classes.”

The Painten quarry has yielded many other “exquisitely preserved fossils”, including ichthyosaurs, turtles, marine and terrestrial crocodile relatives, and dinosaurs. Many of them, like this new pterosaur specimen, are on display in the new Dinosaurier Museum Altmühltal in Denkendorf (Bavaria, Germany).

Reference: “The geologically oldest specimen of Pterodactylus: a new exquisitely preserved skeleton from the Upper Jurassic (Kimmeridgian) Plattenkalk deposits of Painten (Bavaria, Germany)” by Felix J. Augustin, Panagiotis Kampouridis, Josephina Hartung, Raimund Albersdörfer and Andreas T. Matzke, 28 November 2022, Fossil Record.
DOI: 10.3897/fr.25.90692

3 Comments on "152 Million Years Old – Scientists Discover the Oldest Pterodactylus Fossil Yet"

  1. Flying animal with giant armor skull crest nose going backward giant snout ?it’s a aquatic dinosaur a very aquatic dinosaur with Webb feet .pterosaur has serrated teeth it’s a dinosaur any thecodont with serrated teeth is a dinosaur allso any thecodont with ankle fuse to tibia or fibula is a dinosaur there is no flying crocodilian .

  2. That no verticalized scientist is right yon can tell species by verticalized because is so rare .proterosuchus pterosaur t.rex gharial all has no verticaliized of braincase and all are dinosaur.proterosuchus move the nose like aquatic animal only dinosaur can do that in thecodont .laterosphenoid of proterosuchus eparkeria is not like modern crocodilian it like birds but they did not use name orbitalosphenoid but it is simular more fusion.but in t.rex pterosaur they did use that name .on dwarf crocodile it nose is not point to the sky like other crocodilian but it’s skull is not like gator type early land mesoeucrocodylia and t.rex like theropod it’s skull simular to other modern crocodilian but the different they have turn up snout like a mountain since it’s turn up the nose can go forward like a land animal like most mammal one of the dwarf caiman have the same snout .allso on dwarf caiman the blood is different from the rest of modern crocodilian some of the feature is more in common with human blood than to other modern crocodilian since dwarf caiman is a land crocodilian most dinosaur should have this blood .

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