The Cambridge Greensand is a paleontological digging site in eastern England that boasts a trove of pterosaur fossils. A recent study published in the journal ZooKeys analyzed many of these fossils and made a comprehensive list of Cretaceous pterosaurs that lived in England 110 million years ago.

Pterosaurs, often referred to generically as “pterodactyls,” were ancient flying reptiles that lived 220 to 65 million years ago. Most had head crests, long beaks, and spindly teeth.

Pterosaur fossils from the Cambridge Greensand are fragmented, making it difficult for paleontologists studying them to determine which belonged to one specimen or one species. Taissa Rodrigues from the Federal University of Espirito Santo in Brazil led the ZooKeys study that meticulously analyzed a number of English pterosaur fossils. They determined that they belonged to 14 different species, and 16 additional species may have existed there as well.

The species represent of range of pterosaur characters—different sized jaws and teeth, snout shapes, and head decorations all pointed to different species that developed different adaptations based on habitat and available resources. The team was excited to find that English pterosaurs were close in morphology to those from Brazil—indicating that English and Brazilian pterosaurs must have had a common ancestor. This ancestor branched into different species somewhere along the way, each making their home in a different area of the world.

The study was published June 12th in the journal ZooKeys.

The Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York, is pleased to sponsor Paleontology content for This View of Life. Founded in 1932, PRI has outstanding programs in research, collections, and publications, and is a national leader in development of informal Earth science education resources for educators and the general public.

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Published On: June 18, 2013

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