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Date TimeAugust 13, 2018
VoiceAbout 210 million years ago, a strange "bird" with a pelican-like pouch, big fangs and a large, five-foot wingspan circled above the Utah desert, searching for its next meal.
Oldest pterodactyl fossil discovered in Utah desert
Now, after discovering the pterodactyl's fossilized remains in northeastern Utah, scientists suggest the creature was the first flying vertebrate on Earth, according to a new study released Monday.
In fact, the new fossil pushes back the first flying vertebrate by some 65 million years, all the way back into the Triassic period.
The new pterodactyl (flying reptiles that scientists officially call a pterosaur) specimen is named Caelestiventus hanseni, which in Latin means "heavenly wind." Dating back more than 200 million years, it’s one of the earliest ever found.
"Triassic pterosaurs are extraordinarily rare," said study lead author Brooks Britt, a geologist at Brigham Young University. The animal was not a bird nor a dinosaur, though it lived at about the same time as the famed beasts.
The specimen was remarkably well-preserved, the study noted. Part of the fossil included a nearly intact skull. Experts say this is an amazing discovery for such old bones. “Most pterosaur bones look like roadkill,” Britt said.
“For this animal, we have the sides of the face and the complete roof of the skull, including the brain case, complete lower jaws and part of the wing,” he said.
It was also a giant for its time, as most early pterosaurs were rather small.
As for the creature's pelican-like pouch, it may have been used to store prey in flight or to make sounds to attract mates, Discover magazine said.
The pouch also wasn't used to store fish for eating later, as pelicans do, according to Science magazine. This is because the desert oasis where it died apparently hosted only reptiles.
Until Britt’s discovery, there were only 30 known Triassic pterodactyl specimens anywhere on Earth, most of them just a single bone. Also, none lived in deserts, which means that early pterosaurs could live in varied environments and were widely distributed around the planet. Most other specimens have been discovered in the Alps.
“We’re getting insights into the beginning of pterosaurs,” Britt said. “Our (study) shows that they're extraordinarily diverse.”
The study was published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
Oldest pterodactyl fossil discovered in Utah desert


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