triassic specimen found to be early relative of pterosaurs a century after its discovery
Life reconstruction of Scleromochlus taylori by Gabriel Ugueto. Credit: Gabriel Ugeuetto

A new study of a tiny Triassic fossil reptile first discovered over 100 years ago in the north east of Scotland has revealed it to be a close relative of the species that would become pterosaurs—iconic flying reptiles of the age of the dinosaurs.

The research, published in Nature, was carried out by a team of scientists led by Dr. Davide Foffa, Research Associate at National Museums Scotland, and now a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. Working together with colleagues at Virginia Tech, the team used Computed Tomography (CT) to provide the first accurate whole skeleton reconstruction of Scleromochlus taylori.

The results reveal new anatomical details that conclusively identify it as a close pterosaur relative. It falls within a group known as Pterosauromorpha, comprising an extinct group of reptiles called lagerpetids together with pterosaurs.

Living approximately 240 -210 million years ago, lagerpetids were a group of relatively small (cat or small dog-sized) active reptiles. Schleromochlus was smaller still at under 20 centimeters in length. The results support the hypothesis that the first flying reptiles evolved from small, likely bipedal ancestors.

The finding settles a century-long debate. There had previously been disagreement as to whether the reptile, Scleromochlus, represented an evolutionary step in the direction of pterosaurs, dinosaurs or else some other reptilian offshoot.

The fossil of Scleromochlus is poorly preserved in a block of sandstone, which has made it difficult to study in sufficient detail to properly identify its anatomical features. The fossil is one of a group known as the Elgin Reptiles, comprising Triassic and Permian specimens found in the sandstone of the Morayshire region of north east Scotland around the town of Elgin.

The specimens are held mostly in the collections of National Museums Scotland, Elgin Museum and the Natural History Museum. The latter holds Scleromochlus, which was originally found at Lossiemouth.

Dr. Foffa said: “It’s exciting to be able to resolve a debate that’s been going on for over a century, but it is far more amazing to be able to see and understand an animal which lived 230 million years ago and its relationship with the first animals ever to have flown. This is another discovery which highlights Scotland’s important place in the global fossil record, and also the importance of museum collections that preserve such specimens, allowing us to use new techniques and technologies to continue to learn from them long after their discovery.”

Professor Paul Barrett at the Natural History Museum said: “The Elgin reptiles aren’t preserved as the pristine, complete skeletons that we often see in museum displays. They’re mainly represented by natural molds of their bone in sandstone and—until fairly recently—the only way to study them was to use wax or latex to fill these molds and make casts of the bones that once occupied them. However, the use of CT scanning has revolutionized the study of these difficult specimens and has enabled us to produce far more detailed, accurate and useful reconstructions of these animals from our deep past.”

Professor Sterling Nesbitt at Virgina Tech said: “Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight and for nearly two centuries, we did not know their closest relatives. Now we can start filling in their evolutionary history with the discovery of tiny close relatives that enhance our knowledge about how they lived and where they came from”

In additional to National Museums Scotland, the Natural History Museum and Virginia Tech, the study also involved the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol and Edinburgh as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences. More information: Davide Foffa, Scleromochlus and the early evolution of Pterosauromorpha, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05284-x. www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-05284-x Journal information: Nature

Provided by University of Birmingham Citation: Triassic specimen found to be early relative of pterosaurs a century after its discovery (2022, October 5) retrieved 5 October 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-triassic-specimen-early-relative-pterosaurs.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

TECH NEWS RELATED

Cyber Monday Sale Drops the Backbone Mobile Game Controllers to $65. That's a Steal

The Backbone One game controllers, which snap on to your phone, are among the best I've ever used, and certainly in the top two for iPhones.

View more: Cyber Monday Sale Drops the Backbone Mobile Game Controllers to $65. That's a Steal

Cyber Monday Deals Ahead: Black Friday Sales on Google Gadgets Are Still Going Strong

Take advantage of these Cyber Monday discounts on Google Store gadgets like Pixel phones and Nest products.

View more: Cyber Monday Deals Ahead: Black Friday Sales on Google Gadgets Are Still Going Strong

100-Plus Deals to Keep an Eye on Ahead of Cyber Monday

Amazon has switched focus to Cyber Monday, but most of its Black Friday deals are still up for grabs.

View more: 100-Plus Deals to Keep an Eye on Ahead of Cyber Monday

Scientists Reveal That This Type of Dating Profile Sparks More Attraction

The study found that originality in an online dating profile text improves evaluations of personality and attractiveness. Additionally, owners of “original” profiles are rated as being smarter, funnier, and more likable. A new study of online dating site users found a correlation between the perceived originality of text in dating ...

View more: Scientists Reveal That This Type of Dating Profile Sparks More Attraction

Orion captures haunting pictures of the Lunar surface

NASA’s Artemis I mission lifted off from Earth just a few short weeks ago, and since then, the Orion capsule has captured a breathtaking view of Earth and even completed its lunar flyby. While preparing to enter what NASA calls a distant retrograde orbit, the Orion capsule also managed ...

View more: Orion captures haunting pictures of the Lunar surface

These Super Secret Cyber Monday Deals Require Your Voice to Access Them

Want some secret deals? Ask Alexa and order with your voice.

View more: These Super Secret Cyber Monday Deals Require Your Voice to Access Them

Take Advantage of This Disney Plus Deal for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Ford’s New Electric Van Tows Your Family Into the Future

Ford This week Ford Pro unveiled the new E-Tourneo Custom, an MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) that’s essentially a luxurious electric van. The vehicle has flexible seating for up to eight people, solid performance, and luxurious technology inside and out. It is perfect for businesses or those looking to live the van ...

View more: Ford’s New Electric Van Tows Your Family Into the Future

How to Use Google Drive Files Offline on Mac

The links between viruses and Alzheimer’s were dismissed for years – but evidence is building

Chinese Vessel With Largest-ever Cannon Entered Japan Territory Near Disputed Senkakus

Astronomers Discover Important New Information Regarding Star Formation

Mind the gaps: The world needs to radically transform its educational systems, not just upgrade them

Black Friday Target Deals Still Live: Price Drops Ahead of Cyber Monday

Why Amazon's Alexa and Echo Devices Might Not Be Profitable? Here are Some Reasons

The 7 Best Roblox Gifts for Holiday 2022

5 new Netflix releases you better not miss next week

10 Best Ways to Fix Spatial Audio Not Working on AirPods 3 or AirPods Pro

How satellites, radar and drones are tracking meteorites and aiding Earth's asteroid defense

China takes the lead again – ZTE completes 6G network key tests

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News