Scientists from the Transylvanian Museum Society in Romania, the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, and the Museau Nacional in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, have identified a new kind of pterosaur, a flying reptile from the time of the dinosaurs.
The fossilized bones are from the Late Cretaceous rocks of Sebeş-Glod in the Transylvanian Basin in Romania, and are approximately 68 million years old. This area of the world is well-known for its many Late Cretaceous fossils, including many kinds of dinosaurs, and fossilized mammals, turtles lizards, and crocodile's ancient relatives.
The new species, named Eurazhdarcho langendorfensis, is described in a paper published in the online journal PLoS ONE.
Dr. Darren Nash of the University of Southampton's Vertebrate Palaeontology Research Group, who helped to identify the new species, said:
"Eurazhdarcho belong to a group of pterosaurs called the azhdarchids. These were long-necked, long-beaked pterosaurs whose wings were strongly adapted for a soaring lifestyle. Several features of their wing and hind limb bones show that they could fold their wings up and walk on all fours when needed.
With a three-metre wingspan, Eurazhdarcho would have been large, but not gigantic. This is true of many of the animals so far discovered in Romania; they were often unusually small compared to their relatives elsewhere."
The discovery is also the most complete example of an azhdarchid found in Europe to date, and supports a long-argued theory about the behavior of these kinds of creatures.
Dr Gareth Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology, based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton says:
"Experts have argued for years over the lifestyle and behaviour of azhdarchids. It has been suggested that they grabbed prey from the water while in flight, that they patrolled wetlands and hunted in a heron or stork-like fashion, or that they were like gigantic sandpipers, hunting by pushing their long bills into mud.
One of the newest ideas is that azhdarchids walked through forests, plains and other places in search of small animal prey. Eurazhdarcho supports this view of azhdarchids, since these fossils come from an inland, continental environment where there were forests and plains as well as large, meandering rivers and swampy regions."
Other fossils from the region show that there were several places where giant and small azdarchids lived side by side. The discovery of the Eurazhdarcho langendorfensis indicates that there were many different animals hunting different prey in the region at the same time, which gives a much more complex picture of the Late Cretaceous era than previously thought.