New Pterosaur Species Unearthed in Lebanon: Mimodactylus libanensis

Paleontologists in Lebanon have discovered the extremely well-preserved fossilized remains of a previously unknown Cretaceous-period flying reptile.

Life reconstruction of Mimodactylus libanensis. Image credit: Julius T. Csotonyi.

Life reconstruction of Mimodactylus libanensis. Image credit: Julius T. Csotonyi.

Pterosaurs were highly successful flying reptiles — not dinosaurs, as they’re commonly mislabeled — that lived at the same time as nonavian dinosaurs, between 210 million and 65 million years ago.

Some pterosaurs were the largest flying animals of all time, with wingspans exceeding 30 feet (9 m) and standing heights comparable to modern giraffes.

The newly-discovered species was a comparatively small pterosaur, with long wings and a wingspan of approximately 4.3 feet (1.32 m).

Named Mimodactylus libanensis, it lived 95 million years ago (Cretaceous period) in the middle of what is now called the Tethys Seaway, a vast expanse of shallow marine waters filled with reefs and lagoons, separating Europe from Africa and stretching all the way to Southeast Asia.

“The diversity of pterosaurs was much greater than we could ever have guessed at, and is likely orders of magnitude more diverse than we will ever be able to discover from the fossil record,” said Professor Michael Caldwell, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta.

Mimodactylus libanensis: (a) photo and drawing of the complete specimen; (b) close up of scapula and coracoid; (c) detail of the wrist, showing the relation of the pteroid and the carpus; (d) detail of the humerus. Scale bars - 50 mm in (a) and 10 mm (b-d). Image credit: Kellner et al, doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54042-z.

Mimodactylus libanensis: (a) photo and drawing of the complete specimen; (b) close up of scapula and coracoid; (c) detail of the wrist, showing the relation of the pteroid and the carpus; (d) detail of the humerus. Scale bars – 50 mm in (a) and 10 mm (b-d). Image credit: Kellner et al, doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54042-z.

The almost complete skeleton of Mimodactylus libanensis — including the skull and lower jaw — was recovered from the Hjoûla Lagerstätte of the Sannine Limestone near the town of Hjoûla, Lebanon.

The ancient reptile likely fed on crustaceans, catching its prey at the surface as do modern seabirds such as the albatross and frigatebird.

It differs from the other Afro-Arabian pterosaur species named to date and is closely related to the Chinese species Haopterus gracilis, forming a new group of toothed pterosaurs.

“This means that this Lebanese pterodactyloid was part of a radiation of flying reptiles living in and around and across the ancient Tethys Seaway, from China to a great reef system in what is today Lebanon,” Professor Caldwell said.

A paper on the discovery of Mimodactylus libanensis was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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A.W.A. Kellner et al. 2019. First complete pterosaur from the Afro-Arabian continent: insight into pterodactyloid diversity. Sci Rep 9, 17875; doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54042-z

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