The fossil that once perched in a museum drawer in Brighton, mistakenly classified as a shark-fin skeleton, has now been identified as a completely new species of prehistoric flying reptile that rose majestically above what is now known as Cambridgeshire sheds.
Roy Smith A. University of Portsmouth PhD student, identified the creature after realizing it was more strange and interesting than the name suggested. He identified the fossil as the beak head of a new type of pterosaur (from the Greek for “winged lizard”), a creature that existed from 228 meters to 66 million, and was the oldest vertebrate known to have evolved flight.
Pterosaurs with this type of beak were found in North Africa, so Smith and others who have studied the discovery say it is reasonable to assume they resemble Alanka, a fearsome-looking creature thought to have a wingspan of 4 meters or more.
Smith discovered the creature during the trawling of the fossil collections housed at the Booth Museum in Brighton. The fossils were originally discovered by workers excavating for phosphates at Fens in the 19th century, who sold them for little extra money.
While Smith examined fossils of what he described as shark-fin spines, he realized that some were in fact fragments of the jaws or beaks of pterosaurs. They are similar to shark fin spines, but with fundamental differences.
“One of these features is the tiny little holes where nerves appear on the surface and are used for sensitive feeding by pterosaurs. Shark fin spines do not have these features, but it is clear that early paleontologists missed these features,” Smith said.
“Two of the discovered specimens can be identified as a pterodactyl called ornithostoma, but there is an additional specimen that is clearly distinguished and represents a new species. It is the mystery of paleontology.”
Smith, 26, from Derbyshire, has been hunting fossils since he was a boy but this is his most exciting find. He grew up searching in coal mine spoils for fossils, and on Tuesday he was due to be found looking for new finds on the waterfront in Portsmouth as work is underway on the ancient city walls. He said, “I didn’t find anything.”
He said he was about to stop work the day he found out. “I had very little time to kill, so I started going through some other drawers. I was so excited when I came across this specimen that was stuck on a board.”
Among the Victorians who were interested in the fossils in Fens was the naturalist Sir Richard Owen, who campaigned for the creation of the Natural History Museum in London.
“Unfortunately, this specimen is too fragmented to be a basis for naming new species. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that further remains of this pterodactylus have been discovered, as there has been no longer any exposure to the rocks from which the fossils came. But I hope that other museum collections will contain more. Examples. ” Once the restrictions on Covid are lifted, he plans to continue his search for others.
Smith’s supervisor, Professor Dave Martell, said: “The small beak is bewildering in that it is small, and simply differs from an ornithostoma in subtle ways, perhaps in the way that the great white heron might differ. The differences in life could have been related to color, connection and behavior. More than a skeleton.
“It’s very exciting – discovering this mysterious pterosaur here in the UK. This finding is important because it adds to our knowledge of these ancient and fascinating prehistoric flying reptiles, but it also demonstrates that such discoveries can be made, simply by re-examination. Materials in old collections. “
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