Death From Above: Oldest Pterosaur Fossil Discovered In Utah May Have Eaten Small Dinosaurs and Reptiles
According to a new study published on Monday, scientists in northeastern Utah have discovered fossils that belong to a new giant flying vertebrate - one that was here on Earth tens of millions of years before previous evidence attested. The desert creature had a pouch like a pelican, the wingspan of a black vulture, big fangs, and its name is Caelestiventus hanseni, which translates from Latin to mean "heavenly wind."
Study lead author and Brigham Young University geologist Brooks Britt and his team say that pterodactyls originated in the Late Triassic and lived through to the Cretaceous period, but finding a specimen from the Triassic is "extraordinarily rare." Until now, such fossils had only been found in the Alps and in Greenland. Caelestiventus hanseni was found well preserved with a mostly intact skull and mandible, which is also rare. "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." Based on the fossils, the team found that the animal was "giant" compared to other early pterosaurs. It's pouch was either used to store prey or for vocalizations, according to Discovery, but the prey would not have been fish because Science magazine reports that the desert where Caelestiventus hanseni lived was home only to reptiles.
Given that geographical tidbit, one can surmise that C. hanseni may have found its nutrition by eating smaller dinosaurs and reptiles.
"C. hanseni is the first record of a desert-dwelling, non-pterodacty-loid pterosaur, predating by > 65 Ma all known desert occurrences of pterosaurs," Britt and his team wrote in the conclusion of the paper, adding that the rare discovery proves that early in evolution, pterosaurs were more widely distributed around the world and that there was a more diverse pool of them in different kinds of habitats. It also shows that for some reason, Utah is the place to be if you want to find rare prehistoric creatures. A few years ago, a new Ankylosaurid species was found in southern Utah and was said to be the most complete specimen ever found in the state. Who knows what other exciting/terrifying new creatures lie waiting to be discovered (and resurrected) in the Beehive State?